Trailblazer: Aviation Australia and its global reach

written by | August 6, 2019

‘There are others in the region, but we would certainly be the largest by a country mile’

Mark Thompson




It is an aviation training organisation with a reach across the nation and more than half way around the world

In fewer than two decades, Aviation Australia has established itself as the pre-eminent aviation engineering training organisation in the southern hemisphere with campuses in Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Perth.

Aviation Australia has an excellent relationship with Australian carriers. Having worked with the majority of aviation companies in the country, you’d be hard pressed to find an organisation in the domestic industry that hasn’t trained staff with Aviation Australia or employed someone who has been through their training.

And as an indication of its wider international ambitions, Aviation Australia is a partner in a joint venture in a maintenance training operation in Saudi Arabia based at King Khalid International Airport on the outskirts of Riyadh. It also offers what it calls twinning programs for international students embarking on aircraft maintenance engineering diploma courses in both Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

It has strong and respected links with major global carriers, and accreditation not only with the Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) but also, and significantly, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Gulf Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

It is all a long way from more humble beginnings in Queensland in 2001.

The then Beattie Government, which launched the ‘Smart State’ motto during its period in office from 1998 to 2007, realised early on that there was a growing skills shortage in the training of aircraft maintenance engineers.

Qantas was active in Queensland along with Virgin (then Virgin Blue) which subsequently set up its headquarters in the State. The combination led to something of a consolidation of engineering and maintenance work at Brisbane Airport that continues to this day.

‘And there is a light and a whistle for attracting attention’: safety training in the cabin crew training facility.”

Bill Horrocks, Aviation Australia’s CEO, takes up the story: “Aviation Australia was set up in 2001 to provide engineering training under the Australian regulatory framework, which includes CASA and also the Australian Skills Quality Authority (that assures nationally consistent, high-quality training and assessment services). There is obviously a significant relationship between the two.

“Certificate IV Aeroskills was the prime qualification at the start-up.

“In 2006, the organisation applied to the European Aviation Safety Agency for approval to deliver the EASA-approved basic training course and was successful. In fact, Aviation Australia became the first EASA-approved training organisation outside of Europe in the world.

“We’ve held that approval now for 13 going onto 14 years –14 years next year.”
Mark Thompson joined Aviation Australia in 2015 as the Technical Training Manager bringing a huge wealth of experience from his time at Qantas.

His c.v. says it all: a 39 year-career with the nation’s premier carrier ending up as Qantas engineering operations line maintenance manager for Queensland and the Northern Territory.

He is now a member of the senior leadership group at Aviation Australia, in charge of all aspects of technical training.

That means oversight of “all products from initial training to certifying engineers, upskilling and type training across all platforms.

So we’ve held that EASA approval now for 13,going on 14 years


He is justifiably proud not only of Aviation Australia’s current national standing but also its international profile.

“Aviation Australia the largest training organisation in the southern hemisphere. We’re the only EASA-recognised training organisation for category training in Australia. There are others in the region, but we would certainly be the largest by a country mile, and arguably the best.”

So how does that translate through associations and the numbers?

Its work, and reputation, as an incubator for the skills of students both domestically and from overseas, has led to growth not only in recognition but also in boots on the ground. What’s more, those links reach into engineering classrooms and work sites.

Currently the organisation has around 370 engineering apprentices on the books, from 190 different employers, predominantly in Queensland but with a growing number in its various sites across the nation.

That is a result of close co-operation with both the West Australian, Victorian, Tasmanian and Northern Territory Governments for the delivery of basic training in these states – and the industry has been more than accommodating. That is a result of close co-operation with both the West Australian, Victorian, Tasmanian and Northern Territory Governments for the delivery of basic training in these states – and the industry has been more than accommodating.

Thompson recalled a visit to WA: “We did a bit of a road trip round WA, saying, ‘we’re considering coming over here. We need industry support. Are you interested’?

“And industry said, ‘when are you going to arrive’?

“There were places that we visited that said they hadn’t taken on an apprentice for 10 years because they wanted a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer and nobody in WA could deliver that outcome.

“They said that if we turned up they would probably take an apprentice and they have honoured that. It’s actually started to happen. Some that took an apprentice every couple of years are now taking twice as many.”

Right now, Aviation Australia offers multiple courses aimed at different ambitions and skill levels.

At engineering entry level there is a school to work pathway, Certificate II in aircraft line maintenance, which prepares interested Year 11 school students for further study or vocational training, including aircraft maintenance engineering. It is a two-year, single day and one-week block course held during the year in Brisbane and Cains and more recently through an association with the NT Government in Darwin and Alice Springs.

“It’s a good initiative to encourage the youth coming through school; an opportunity to get into aviation and engineering,” Thompson said.

Aviation Australia is very active in the school environment, both in those schools offering aviation specific streams for more senior students as well as through careers’ advice pitched at others. It is also a prominent exhibitor at careers expos.

Currently, the most popular pathway, generally for school leavers, is the Certificate IV in Aeroskills, either specialising in mechanical or avionics. Aviation Australia delivers these qualifications in accordance with CASA regulatory requirements, and they form a significant part of the pathway towards a Diploma of Aeroskills which leads to a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer (LAME) outcome.

Similar courses are offered to international students with further potential to branch out into university degrees in business, majoring in aviation management (Southern Cross University), business and commerce, aviation management and safety (University of Southern Queensland), and engineering honours, electrical and aerospace at QUT.

“The EASA and GCAA approvals are very important for our international students,” Thompson said.
“Obviously two of the largest Gulf airlines are in the UAE. We have provided courseware and training to airlines in the region over many years.” ‘Practical application: Emma Sanjurjo and Manning Elms working on a Rolls Royce engine. aviation australia’


The expansive hangar offering a wealth of engineering training opportunities.


According to Thompson, we are entering an exciting time for those wishing to become aircraft maintenance engineers with a recognition that much of the current, well-established workforce is entering the more “senior phase”.

“I think it’s just starting to take effect. You’re seeing the shortage of engineers coming through the system to replace the older guys that are naturally retiring over a period of time.

“We are certainly starting to see that in the general aviation sector as well. I believe general aviation is arguably up to where 70 per cent of the engineering population lives.”

The number serves to make an important point and one Aviation Australia is trying to get across to its aspiring graduates: that while much of the “romance” is around engineering work with the major carriers, additionally some of the best work is in the regional areas with GA operators – whether fixed wing or rotary.

“Just look at avionics,” Thompson said. “GA is a pretty cool place to be. I mean, there’s some flash equipment flying round. It’s not just the 787s and the A350s, but it’s some of the little business jets. They are just as modern, if not more so in respect of their avionics packages.

“There is a gap in the understanding of what a role in engineering and aviation could actually be,” he said.“Most young people can identify: ‘If I work for Qantas or Virgin I’m probably going to be working on these airplanes.’.’ And there definitely are fantastic career options with the major airlines.”

“That said, there is certainly a gap in what people think a career in general aviation looks like, and what it actually is. It can be really, really exciting to work for some of the general aviation companies. You get to work on a range of aircraft, in some interesting and unique locations.”

“You’re starting to see recruitment for apprentices grow and the larger guys are taking on a few more.” Thompson said.

“Queensland companies are also winning a lot of contracts defence-wise, which could in turn bolster recruitment. So there’s growth, and it’s great.”

One of the most interesting conundrums facing current training organisations worldwide is the availability of people with sufficient skills to actually conduct the training.

Aviation Australia admits it can be a tough ask, but the organisation has been blessed in recent times in being able to focus on the best of those available.

‘It has strong and respected links with major global carriers’ We were fortunate to pick up very high-quality instructors who have a passion to teach.

“Like in any trade, there’s an element of people who are very good what they do but they can’t necessarily teach it well.

We target the right individuals if we get the opportunity. But again, as I said, we were fortunate. We had a period of growth at the same time these people were looking for employment. It worked well for everybody.

“On top of that, we’ve got some instructors that are retiring. So we’ve got that same challenge to keep good quality instructors. But I just have to say that our instructors are the best at what they do.”

Walk around the Aviation Australia campus in the burgeoning Brisbane Airport precinct and you realise that not only is the organisation in good company but also that its facilities are among the best in Australia.

In the precinct you will find aviation orientated businesses such as Airbus, Boeing Australia, Northrup Grumman, Toll Aviation, Hawker Pacific, Jet Aviation, Alliance, Qantas and Virgin engineering and others.

It’s a synergistic mix.

On the huge Aviation Australia campus there is a study space the equivalent of a hangar for training on engines both fixed wing and rotary attached to the main administration area. There are classrooms supplemented by a canteen and other recreational spaces.

Across the road, facing the admin building on one side, is an enormous hangar filled with aircraft dedicated to training in everything from undercarriage, to engines to avionics, while on the other an equally cavernous space is given over to flight crew training.

Those two buildings are also the principal centres of additional Aviation Australia training options: cabin crew career training and advanced pilot training.

The former is specifically aimed at men and women keen on a career as a vital member of cabin crew. Courses run by Aviation Australia are orientated towards producing people ready for a career with the major carriers.
At the same time, the Aviation Australia facilities are used by major airlines to train crew who have already made the grade and been employed. An insight into the scope of the cabin crew training facilities in Brisbane.


“Aviation Australia, using its flight simulator, offers advanced pilot training: the advanced diploma of aviation (pilot in command) and the multi-crew co-operation course.” go Flight deck crew training is a competitive business and to date Aviation Australia has strategically focussed on advanced pilot training.

Horrocks explains that “our flight training simulator is used by individuals and airlines to train and assess pilots. We provide one of the best, if not the best, multi-crew cooperation courses in the country. “Most pilot training is competitive, but those who provide a quality product will do well.

“We are considering ab-initio training, and if we ever do offer it, we will have the same standard of quality outcomes as we do for advanced pilot training and engineering. We wouldn’t be there to train for the sake of training. We will do it properly and deliver the high quality product that we’re recognised for This year’s Aviation Expo is scheduled for Saturday August 17 at the Brisbane Aviation Australia site. The Expo attracted record crowds in 2017 and given early feedback, the organisers hope to smash that record. Details at Aviation Expo.

“In the last couple of years industry engagement has continued to improve, and the Expo is a big part of that” said Horrocks.

“And that’s mainly through our staff getting out and about and doing their jobs well. We’re going to continue to build upon that foundation at this year’s expo”.

“We want to get the message across that there are diverse opportunities across the aviation industry.

“The aviation industry has provided exciting and rewarding careers to many professionals. We are all passionate about sharing career possibilities with the next generation”

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