News

Fliers being driven away

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July 13, 2017

When another member of the Victorian Gliding Club ventured into my office late last week, I have to admit to thinking, ‘‘Oh dear, not another one.’’

But this one had a different story to tell.

Matt Gage is Victoria’s head coach for gliding and has no doubt brought a fair few other glider fliers to town.

He also had plans to start a new training scheme in Benalla.

But after what Mr Gage said was a ‘‘hostile’’ meeting with council in April last year, he said he could no longer trust the council and decided to sell his hangar space and his glider.

Like many of the gliding club members, he had moved to Benalla because pursuing his passion for flying was affordable here.

‘‘I moved here about four years ago along with 20, 25 people in the last few years,’’ Mr Gage said.

‘‘I think most of us are now regretting that decision, because of the hangar situation and concerns about what may come next.

‘‘The lease agreement implied that council owned all the structures on the airfield, which they never have.

‘‘If the lease amount that was being proposed included the fact that council owned all the structures, that might have been a reasonable amount to have proposed.

‘‘We’ve already got a situation where the proposed hangar leases are at least double what the market rate is, probably three times the market rate.

‘‘I had a feeling when this all started a year ago that any concession that may have been made on the hangar amounts, which now haven’t eventuated, would simply be added on somewhere else.’’

Mr Gage thinks that ‘‘somewhere else’’ is most likely to be an increase in the lease council charges the gliding club for the clubrooms, which is yet to be negotiated.

What was even more interesting is that Mr Gage said the council had not been able to bill hangar owners as there were no records of who owns what and that determining that will largely be left to the gliding club.

‘‘My understanding is that the documentation that council had was lost at some point with the changes with council many years ago moving to Delatite Council and moving back to Benalla again,’’ Mr Gage said.

‘‘One of the ways (the council) could save a lot of money would be to downgrade the certification status, which a number of similar airfields around the country have done.

‘‘I believe what we have here is a vanity project.

‘‘The whole airport redevelopment is about the town appearing to be bigger than it is and more prestigious than it is.’’

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