There’s some fantastic spots on the mighty Murray River, and Mildura has to be up there as one of the favourites. With wine bars, restaurants, paddle steamers, a rich colonial history and fantastic weather, it really does have it all.
Fittingly, Mildura Airport is the busiest regional airport in Victoria and has twice been named Australia’s Rural Airport of the Year. Like many RPT airports in Australia, it was corporatized in 2008, and it’s operated by a board and a management team to help handle the RPT passenger movements Aero Club operations, Sport Aircraft Association and a flying school.
The east/west runway is 1.8 kilometres long for the turbine aircraft and the north/south is just over a kilometre long to provide for any unexpected crosswinds. Being aware of Gliders operating to the south-west is important though; the Sunraysia Gliding Club is a vibrant hive of activity in the summer months, with three intersecting gravel strips, just a couple of miles away.
Qantas Link operates four flights a day, Rex has five and Virgin brings the 737 in once a day from Melbourne. That’s a lot for a small airport and brings to 225,000, the total number of passenger movements per year (2017).
AOPA member, Andrew Kilroy is completing an RAAus instructor rating at Sunraysia Flying School, on the airport. He’s also the Secretary of a newly-revamped board at the Aero Club that has decided that proactivity is better for members than complacency. So they’ve set to work with some cosmetic changes and a host of initiatives to get the Aero Club ticking again and increase its fifty-strong membership base.
On the physical front, a huge new TV screen has been installed that greets members as they enter the rooms. The existing bar area and seating area is getting a needed makeover. The full CASA approved colour simulator completes the picture – and the message is clear; the new board wants to intice new members and take the club to new heights, after a period where change happened a little more slowly.
“Safety, community and fun is what we are all about. There’s a new committee and a new energy”, Andrew explains.
What’s most striking at the airport is the flying activity and passion across a range of aircraft and disciplines.
A few hundred metres from the Aero Club building is a hangar belonging to the Mildura Sport Aviation club that’s bustling with activity. Peter Greed (President), Gary Keller (Secretary) and others members built their hangar that houses ten or so quite unique and well-maintained Jabiru aircraft (and Peter Guest’s VH-registered Bushby Mustang).
While Peter learned in a Piper 140 in the 70’s, he found that building a Jabiru “over 95 Saturdays) in 2001 was both easy and rewarding – and most of his members agree. They’ve even built in a bar and relaxation area at the end of the hangar and had a ‘tub’ donated by RAM Air next door, to help pull the aircraft in and out.
Dave Seddon’s Turbo Arrow (VH-LYA) is hangered in the club’s open hangar between the two buildings and it’s a very nice example of a Piper still has relevance today. It symbolises that a 50 year-old aircraft, when properly maintained, can still provide reliability and exemplary carrying capacity.
Back at the Aero Club, Andrew explains how the club is now holding seminars to encourage new skills among pilots, and an understanding of safely operating in the region.
“We represent aviation in Sunraysia; general aviation, sport flying – and we we’re engaging with our members and the community with seminars on safety and use of the airport. We have scout groups come through the airport, we have a strong social calendar with fly-aways and a number open days as well”, he explains.
Pearson’s Aviation is set to open a new flight training school on the western side of the field, with nearly fifty brand new Cessna 172’s on order and a total fleet of seventy-odd aircraft.
“The weather is great here and pilots can learn to co-exist with RPT operations and gliders which is important for skills”, he said.
With the Air Ambulance conducting around one thousand trips a year to the airport, the Aero Club will continue to face the challenge of their pilots operating in close-proximity to Gliders, Sport Aircraft, RPT, public service flights and trainees sharing airspace. But the challenge is being met head on by this committee who wants to see co-existence and professional operations being utilised to prove that safety and growth can merge successfully.
The Mildura Aero Club’s website is www.milduraaeroclub.com.au.