Foreign pilots will once again be allowed into Australia on working visas to help address a shortage that threatens to ground planes and cancel flights.
The occupations eligible for foreign worker visas was slashed during a government shake-up in April, but from next month pilots will once again be granted access after concerns over the national shortage.
The Regional Aviation Association of Australia says Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office has confirmed the change to the organisation, which is now lobbying for a four-year visa period rather than two.
‘In order to attract suitably-senior pilots, who more than likely have a family growing up and so forth, we need to make it attractive enough for them to come across and uproot their family,’ CEO Mike Higgins told AAP on Thursday.
‘A four-year period seems to be a sweet spot.’
Mr Higgins said there had been a ‘trickle-down effect’ from large international carriers, such as Etihad and Emirates, recruiting from Australian carriers who then had to hire from smaller regional airlines.
The foreign pilots would serve in a training and mentoring role to their Australian counterparts, he added.
He said if the current situation continued services would need to be cut.
Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said the skills shortages were an ‘indictment of the failure’ of the current government’s handling of Australia’s aviation industry.
‘The current government has dropped the ball,’ Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
‘Australia should not only be able to produce enough skilled pilots to service our domestic industry, we should also have the capacity to train pilots for all around the world as an export industry to benefit our national economy.’
Mr Albanese also raised concern over potential foreign ownership of Australian airports and ports following reporters half of a regional West Australian airport is now Chinese owned.
‘I think there should be very close scrutiny of facilities, be they ports or airports, to ensure that there is majority Australian ownership and therefore majority Australian control of these facilities,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘I think there is a national interest test when it comes to ports or airports.’
Federal Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells acknowledged the pilot shortage but said the previous Labor government also had to take some blame for the longstanding problem.
‘Clearly there have been shortages, there have been issues that have been accumulating in recent years,’ Senator Fierravanti-Wells told Sky News.
Mr Dutton has declined to comment.