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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Pilot Shortage? Not in Northern Australia

COMMERCIAL

In Australia, the economies of both Queensland and the Northern Territories are booming amid the lowest rate of unemployment across the country for 33 years. With the unemployment figure hovering at 4.2 percent recently, economic growth is being stoked amid expectations of increased consumer spending.

This, in turn, is causing wranglers to leave the cattle stations of these two states, in favor of more lucrative work amid a mining boom fueled by demand from Asia for Australian metals and coal.

With some of these cattle stations rivalling smaller European countries in size, this has triggered increased demand for helicopters like Robinson Helicopter R22s to muster over these vast expanses as the number of ground staff wanes.

Yet even though this scenario has boosted work for helicopter mustering companies, they are still turning hopeful pilots away due to an oversupply in the Australian market.

"That’s a true statement," said Clinton Brisk, owner of Brisk Contracting, an Australian company with a fleet of R22s that has mustered across Northern Australia. "It really revolves around less people being attracted to that sort of lifestyle now (amid the burgeoning economy)."

"A while ago I advertised for a mustering pilot and was inundated with applications because of the oversupply," he added. "Because it’s increasingly difficult to get ground staff, the use of helicopters is now greater. Plus the cattle industry is going from strength to strength. I recently heard of a station sold for $30 million (Australian, $26 million U.S.), which six years ago was bought for $6 million ($5.2 million)."

Private ownership of helicopters is on the rise among successful cattle stations, another reason why pilots applying to mustering contractors are turned away.

"The stations with huge equity are finding absorbing the cost of operating a helicopter easy, especially with the low-cost economics associated with the R22, so they are actually hiring contractors less," said Brisk. "Instead they are using their own pilots (often existing cattle station employees), thus leaving the contractors with fewer jobs to offer applicants."

The phenomenon extends to tour operators.

"I’m in the fortunate position of being able pick the cream of the crop," said Scott Menzies, owner operator of Gold Coast Heli Tours, based in Southern Queensland. "This is entirely due to the oversupply on the low-hour pilot market." — Simon Roper

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