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Old warbirds offer new aviation future for Scone

The Hawker Hurricane.

The inhabitants of the rural NSW town of Scone are among the few in the world who can genuinely say they’re happy to see a Hurricane.

In this case it’s a Hawker Hurricane, the fabled World War II plane that inflicted 60 per cent of the losses sustained by the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.

The Hurricane, believed to be only one flying in the Southern Hemisphere, is a major drawcard in a plan by Scone Regional Airport to lift its fortunes and boost its balance sheet.

Thanks in part to a $6.2 million grant through NSW Government’s Environment and Tourism Fund, the Upper Hunter Shire Council-run airport is undergoing a $23.5 million facelift.

This includes building a warbird visitor attraction which it plans to have up and running by its next air show in March 2020.

The centrepiece of the visitor attraction will be a warbirds collection founded by well-known pilot Col Pay and the Vintage Fighter Restoration company run by his son Ross Pay.

Warbirds include a North American Harvard, Mustang, a Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk and a Cessna A-37 Dragonfly — with more on the way, including a two-seater Spitfire.

Also on the cards is a runway overlay, new taxiways, lighting, drainage and wildlife fencing along with hangars which will be leased to commercial operators.

“Like most regional airports we make a significant loss so we’re trying to minimise that loss or break even or make a profit,’’ airport property and business coordinator Joanne McLoughlin says.

“We’ve really looked at what opportunities are available to us in the way of general aviation.

“So we’re going outside the box a bit compared to everybody else and we’ll hopefully have something pretty significant and exciting in the next 18 months.”

The air show had its genesis in the “Flight of Hurricane’ air show in 2016, which saw the restored Hurricane make its debut with a Mark VIII Spitfire from Temora Aviation Museum.

That brought in 5000 spectators and a second air show,” Warbirds over Scone”, was organised this year.

The plans are to make the air show a biennial fixture.

The 4360 square metre visitor centre will be a double storey building with a function centre upstairs, and a mezzanine level that will allow people to walk around the aircraft.

There will be a video room where people will be able to watch warbird videos as well as video displays around the mezzanine level.

Visitors will also be able to go across to the maintenance workshop and watch warbirds being re-built, and also take a joy ride.

“This will be something unique in Australia and the southern hemisphere,’’ McLoughlin says.

“There is no other facility in the world that you can see the whole restoration process, see the finished product on display and take a joy flight in one.”

“And we’re looking at other businesses to spin off that, like a warbird training school.”

Scone usually accommodates about 6000 landings a year, including private jets carrying wealthy locals or people visiting the world-renowned horse breeding area.

McLoughlin doesn’t rule out future regular public transport (RPT) services but sees them as unlikely, given the town’s proximity to Sydney.

Instead, she is talking to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority about the possibility of ad hoc charters at certain times of the year.

One interesting recent development that also helps the bottom line has been a decision to install remote sensing technology on the obstacle beacons around the airport.

The hilly terrain around Scone means there are 43 obstacles that need beacons, many of them in remote locations that are difficult to get to on a daily or a weekly basis.

Mcloughlin says a number are up at Barrington Tops and annual inspection take about two weeks.

She decided to investigate the remote technology after hearing somebody talking about it at a conference last year and so far it’s been installed on 15 obstacles.

“We’ll be doing all of them as the funding becomes available,” she says.

“We’ve had to replace the entire beacon light and then put in a controller box which has a SIM card in it.

“So any time that the light goes out we get a notification that it’s not operational.”

The new technology makes the airport compliant with regulatory standards but more importantly, says McLoughlin, ensures pilot and aircraft safety.

“We’ll get a text message about an outage and we’ll get somebody out to repair it as quickly as possible,’’ she says.

“And we can obviously also put in a NOTAM.”

Written by Steve Creedy


About Steve Creedy

An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.

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