THE US aviation company which plans to run a $100 million manufacturing centre at Central Coast Airport has never built a single aircraft — a major embarrassment to Premier Mike Baird who gave a big thumbs-up to the fledgling business last week.
Mr Baird announced with great fanfare that Amphibian Aerospace Industries — which documents reveal was only set up as a $120 company on May 4 this year — would take up a 40-year council lease at the Warnervale airport and become the first aircraft builder to operate in Australia since World War II.
“This is a great day for the Central Coast — this announcement means thousands of jobs for the region,” Mr Baird said.
However, the Express Advocate can today reveal Amphibian Aircraft Group has barely turned a screw on Albatross aircraft, for which it owns the licence to build HU-16 models A-E and G-111, since it started operating in 2010.
In response to questions from the Express Advocate, an AAI spokesman said in an email this week: “We have not produced any aircraft except to carry (out) maintenances/restoration on a few Albatross.”
It is the latest blow to Mr Baird whose popularity has plummeted since the greyhound racing ban, legal action over council mergers, WestConnex budget blowouts and ongoing health department debacles.
NSW Premier Mike Baird arrives at Central Coast Airport last Tuesday to announce that a US company would be relocating to the NSW to build aircraft — the first to do so in Australia since World War II.
A spokesman for Mr Baird said the Premier only attended the AAI announcement last Tuesday after an invitation from Central Coast Council.
“No NSW government money has been provided to the company,” the spokesman said.
The Premier’s backdown came as aviation expert Ron Bishop questioned why Amphibian Aircraft Group would relocate to Australia when it would be “three times cheaper” to build planes in the US.
AAI’s non-existent plane-building experience came as a shock to council chief executive Rob Noble whose staff had been negotiating with the company for a year before the deal was inked.
“In discussions with council, (AAI) did provide information that convinced our senior staff that it had the business plan, construction certificate and backing to be able to fund the proposed development on the airport site,” Mr Noble told the Express Advocate.
“From a council’s perspective, it’s a pretty simple commercial lease that’s been entered into. The rest is up to the company.
“We’re not aircraft industry specialists and we have a role to play in promoting economic development and jobs for our area.”
AAI had also approached other locations in NSW including Illawarra Airport. Shellharbour Council’s director of strategic assets, Matt Youell, said he had been “dealing with them on a regular basis” before AAI secured the deal with Central Coast Council.
The council last week refused to reveal the terms of the 40-year lease for “commercial-in-confidence” reasons.
The Federal Department of Industries revealed it had issued AAI with a research and development tax incentive certificate on May 9.
AAI is expected to lodge a development application with the council next month.
‘IT JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE’
AN American aviation expert says “it just doesn’t make sense” for Amphibian Aircraft Group to relocate its manufacturing business to Australia.
“They are planning to rebuild 70-year-old aircraft; why not make new models? It would be a lot cheaper … and who will their customers be?” Ron Bishop, a senior aviation lecturer at Central Queensland University, said.
“There’s a good reason why there have been no aircraft manufacturers since the World War II in Australia: because it’s three times more expensive to build here. Most of the parts for these old planes are in the US and because of the huge shortage of aircraft engineers in Australia, it means wages are about $120,000 here while they are $45,000 in the US for the same job.”
An Amphibian Aerospace Industries spokesman said it had done a thorough cost analysis of relocating to Australia.
“We have done over five years of extensive study on the topics you are asking and can conclude that the business case for this project is favourable,” he said.
“In terms of aviation we are a minnow but like this great nation we punch above our weight. We may not be number one in aircraft manufacturing, but I can assure you when this factory is set up we will be number one in amphibian aircraft.”
Mr Bishop, who previously worked for the US air force as an Operations Superintendent checking on the legitimacy of manufacturing companies, said he struggled to find out anything about AAI’s parent company.
“If they had been operating in the US you would usually find a crumb trail of what they were doing. But I can’t find anything,” he said. “Never say never, but I just don’t see this working.”