Australia's Queensland State Government has launched a review of its air service operations, which comprise the Government Air Wing, Police Air Wing and Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ), in a move that could see the services privatised from 2014.
The review aims to ensure taxpayers get "the best bang for their buck", says Queensland treasurer Tim Nicholls, and comes as the new state government seeks to save A$4 billion ($4 billion) over the next three years to return to a surplus.
The government owns and operates eight fixed-wing aircraft. Six of these aircraft - a Cessna Citation business jet, three Cessna Caravan single-engined turboprops, a Beechcraft 1900 twin turboprop and a piston-engined Britten-Norman Islander - are operated by the Queensland police service, based at Brisbane, Cairns, Horn Island and Mount Isa, while a Hawker business jet and a King Air turboprop are based in Brisbane and operated by the Government Air Wing.
The government also owns and operates five helicopters. EMQ operates three AgustaWestland AW139s, based in Brisbane and Cairns, and two Bell 412s based in Townsville. Queensland plans to establish two permanent helicopters for the Gold Coast and South East Queensland. Aeromedical services are conducted by service providers under grant arrangements.
The government launched a registration of interest process in late August, with submissions closing on 28 September. Private companies have been asked to register their interest in delivering fixed- and rotary-wing services. If there is sufficient interest, the government says a more detailed expressions of interest process will be launched. The review will determine the most effective and efficient way to operate the fleet, says Nicholls, stressing that it will not result in any service being affected or flying hours reduced. "In fact, we are seeking an increase", he points out.
The government will consider a range of options, including outsourcing all or part of its air service operations and infrastructure to a commercial third party or operating its fleet from a single integrated air wing, says Nicholls. "The review may find current arrangements are ideal," he adds.
The EMQ in particular was highly praised during the Queensland floods of 2011, when the service rescued hundreds of people.