By Mark Evans
Wagga Wagga: Home to Regional Express and the Royal Australian Air Force
Wagga Wagga may be a small regional city in New South Wales, Australia, but it has a much bigger role to play in Australian aviation. The airport itself is only ranked 33rd busiest in Australia with just over 200,000 passengers, according to 2018-2019 statistics. However, the airfield is home to a flying training school and aircraft maintenance school which sees several hundred trainees pass through the airport each year.
The airfield was developed by the Royal Australian Air Force ( RAAF ) in 1940 as a flying school, and is still owned today by the RAAF. The city leases part of the airfield for civilian operations. The city is located almost exactly halfway between Australia’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
Regional Express, otherwise known as Rex, has a large presence at the airport. Rex arose from the collapse of Ansett Airlines in 2001. Ansett was the parent company of Kendell Airlines and Hazelton Airlines. The assets of the two airlines were purchased by investors and used to form Rex. It started operations in August 2002 with its inaugural flight taking place from Wagga Wagga to Sydney.
Australia’s largest independent regional airline has a large maintenance base at Wagga Wagga for its Saab 340s. The airport is also home to the Australian Airline Pilot Academy (AAPA) which is operated by Rex. The 28 million Australian dollar ($20.4 million) facility was officially opened in 2010 and is responsible for training around 200 cadets per year. Its former Saab 340, VH-PBS sits proudly outside the school.
Rex operates 60 Saab 340s and last year decided to expand operations with the acquisition of six Boeing 737-800s. This Monday saw the B737s return to the skies after being parked for several months due to domestic border closures. They will predominantly be used on the Golden Triangle route between Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, competing with Qantas and Virgin Australia.
Some other former aircraft also live on at the airport. Rex’s cargo subsidiary Pel-Air previously operated Swearingen Metroliners. Prior to being owned by Rex, Pel-Air retired three of them at Wagga Wagga.
They were sold to the RAAF by 1999 and have been used as technical training aircraft since. The aircraft are VH-EEQ, VH-EER and N333FA. They are still in their former color schemes with VH-EER in full Australian Air Express livery.
The base is now used for The Royal Australian Air Force School of Technical Training (RAAFSTT). It provides a theoretical and practical learning environment to develop aviation technical trainees to support Army, Navy and Air Force aviation maintenance capability.
It delivers initial employment training to aircraft, avionics, aeronautical life support, and aircraft structures trades. There are approximately 400 trainees and students from across the three services undertaking training at any one time with course durations varying from six to 15 months.
Trainees are eligible for the attainment of qualifications including a Certificate IV in Aviation Maintenance for avionics, aircraft and structural trades. Graduates will also become eligible for the attainment of a Military Aviation Maintenance License issued under the Defence Aviation Safety Regulations.
As well as the Metro’s the school operates six Pacific Aerospace CT-4B aircraft which are used for flightline activities, including live taxi and ground handling activities. There are also five Pacific Aerospace CT4-A and eight Aermacchi MB-326 aircraft used in the simulated maintenance environment where trainees undertake generic removal and installation tasks.
The Metroliners are used in support of propeller removal and installation training, while two Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopters support rotary wing aspects.
Six Pilatus PC-9/A trainers are now in the process of being integrated into the maintenance training program to improve and modernise the training aids used at RAAFSTT.
The base also has an Aviation Heritage Centre which is open to the public. It maintains five static aircraft at the front gate that saw action in various wars.