A training college for China Southern Airlines pilots operating from Perth’s Jandakot Airport has gone into voluntary liquidation, with more than 60 local staff losing their jobs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of borders was a contributing factor to the ongoing viability of the business,” liquidator Grant Thornton Australia said in a statement.
Grant Thornton Australia said all 62 staff were sacked when it was appointed liquidator of China Southern West Australian Flying College on Monday.
However, it said all staff members were expected to receive their full entitlements, based on a preliminary assessment.
The liquidator is now looking to sell the company’s 37 aircraft and Merredin Airport, 260 kilometres east of Perth, which the local shire sold to China Southern Airlines for $1 in 1995.
The airline then spent more than $1 million upgrading the airstrip for use as part of the training college and also as a public airport.
While the liquidator looks at options for a sale, the airport will remain open.
Wheatbelt airport to remain open
Shire of Merredin councillor Romolo Patroni said between three and five Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) flights landed at the airport each week.
“We’re pleased it is able to continue because [the RFDS] plays a vital role,” Cr Patroni said.
In 2019, businessman Clive Palmer criticised the Chinese ownership of the airport, but Premier Mark McGowan said the sale had created jobs and “supports the Royal Flying Doctor Service to save lives in the Wheatbelt”.
The college opened in 1993 and in 2010 entered into a joint venture with China Southern Airlines to train its pilots.
On its website, the college says it graduates 120 pilots each year who return to China Southern Airlines as First Officers.
The college stopped operating out of Merredin in 2016 when it was suspended by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority over personnel issues.
However, the college had continued operating from Jandakot.
“As a consequence of the liquidation, all aircraft being used by the company have been permanently grounded,” the liquidator said.
“As a result, the flying school, which operated from Jandakot Airport, is being wound down on a managed basis and a core team of company staff are assisting the liquidators in this process.”
The liquidator said there were 48 student pilots at the college on Monday and it was working with China Southern Airlines to find a way for them to complete their training.
It said it would look at selling all the company’s assets — including the 37 small aircraft — in the new year.