Airport industry booms as COVID-19 increases workload
Airport industry booms as COVID-19 increases workload

$100k wages: Lucrative industry booms in wake of COVID-19

A largely hidden Cairns industry is absolutely booming due to COVID-19, with workers on average wages of about $100,000 a year.

Aviation maintenance can seem like an obscure sector with massive hangars keeping the intricate work out of the public eye, but it is a major economic driver for the region.

Cairns Aviation Skills Centre general manager Chris Piggott said firms like Hawker Pacific Avionics had never been busier.

The spike in activity comes down to airlines downgrading their operational fleets to smaller aircraft due to drastically reduced demand.

The Queensland Labor government has promised $100,000 in a business study to create an advanced fibre composites facility at Cairns Airport, should it be re-elected. Hawker Pacific aircraft composite specialist James Frost is excited about the prospect of growing the industry at the Cairns Airport. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
The Queensland Labor government has promised $100,000 in a business study to create an advanced fibre composites facility at Cairns Airport, should it be re-elected. Hawker Pacific aircraft composite specialist James Frost is excited about the prospect of growing the industry at the Cairns Airport. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE


Those smaller planes are the kind Cairns has the expertise, resources and reputation to keep in immaculate flying condition.

"When the big aircraft stopped flying, the smaller 100-seater jet market and down became very, very busy," Mr Piggott explained.

"They were the ones carrying the freight, carrying the footballers, carrying the mining charters.

"There has been an enormous growth in the 100-seat jet and turbo prop markets."

Mr Piggott said Alliance Airlines had expanded its fleet with 19 new jets, plus an option for five more, and the company had upgraded its profits for the financial year by $7m.

Cairns has never been a heavy maintenance hub for the large jets but the market for 100-seater jets and below is the city's bread and butter.

"Maintenance organisations like Hawker Pacific are at full capacity and getting busier," Mr Piggott said.

"The aviation market on the western side of the runway is very busy, except of course for tourism."

Hawker Pacific licensed aircraft engineer Martin Klink and apprentice aircraft engineer Demetris Nicolaou working on a Cessna Caravan in the Cairns facility. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN
Hawker Pacific licensed aircraft engineer Martin Klink and apprentice aircraft engineer Demetris Nicolaou working on a Cessna Caravan in the Cairns facility. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN

Labor's election announcement of $100,000 for a business case into the planned development of an advanced fibre composites maintenance and repair facility at Cairns Airport should add another string to the industry's bow.

Advanced repairs on aviation composites such as helicopter blades and interior trim pieces currently have to be sent down south.

"This will value-add to the growth of the maintenance repair organisations in Cairns and across the region," Mr Piggott said.

"It's about diversifying the economy in Cairns.

"The average wage in that hangar is $100,000.

"These aren't checkout chicks."

The state government in 2018 gave Hawker Pacific a grant to expand its hangar size in Cairns by 50 per cent - a move that is paying off under the current inflated workload.

Originally published as $100k wages: Lucrative industry booms in wake of COVID-19