Col Miller would like a long-term lease to run his aviation business but has so far been unable to come to an agreement with the Fraser Coast council.
Col Miller would like a long-term lease to run his aviation business but has so far been unable to come to an agreement with the Fraser Coast council.

Man runs business on monthly lease

COL MILLER has worked in the Australian aviation business for 36 years but it’s taken the Fraser Coast Regional Council to finally clip his wings.

“I’ve had it. I’ll cut my losses and walk,” the Maryborough Aviation Services boss threatened yesterday.

“I’ve been maintaining aircraft at Maryborough Airport for 26 years and I’ve been on a month-by-month lease for 16 of those years.

“Just tell me, how can anyone run a strong business that can bring in outside investment and create local jobs, when your council puts a noose around your neck with a month-by-month lease for 16 years?”

Mr Miller, who employs six full-timers and four part-time workers in his 1500m2 aircraft maintenance and training facility at the airport, says he was on a five-year lease when he first arrived in Maryborough in 1983 to set up a second base for his Sunshine Coast employer, Sunstate Airlines.

Then, in late 1990, Mr Miller leased the hangar and office space from Sunstate Airlines’ Bevan Whitaker. The men became partners, with Mr Miller buying out Mr Whitaker in 1995.

“We became a one-stop aviation maintenance shop. We service aircraft from around Australia, PNG, Fiji, Samoa and the Solomons.

“Right now, in spite of all the toing and froing with this council over my lease, I still employ 10 locals, anything we can buy locally we do and we turn over a couple of million a year.”

Yesterday councillor Gerard O’Connell said the council was now looking for “a consultant to finalise the master plan for Hervey Bay and Maryborough Airports”.

“Personally I am hoping Maryborough will become a centre for general aviation business and light aircraft under the master plan. I’m a strong supporter of aviation and marine industries for the region.

“We need to encourage people like Col Miller, who is running a clean business with the capacity to employ local people.”

Mr Miller volunteered information that at one stage of his tenure he had “got behind in the rent – some $2000 because we lost a contract but I paid the arrears out on October 12, 2009, and we’re actually well in front because we’re still paying in spite of council not sending us an invoice since July.”

He currently pays about $17,000 a year in rent to the council.

Mr Miller, who has filing cabinets jammed with correspondence to and from the council, wrote a letter to mayor Mick Kruger on September 23, 2009, in which he said “the inaction of the Fraser Coast Regional Council (over his requests for a long-term lease on his hangar) has caused and is continuing to cause financial hardship and is limiting any further development of this business”.

He writes that in 2008 he was approached by two prominent aviation businessmen wanting to become shareholders in MAS but they had withdrawn from the deal “on financial and legal advice because there is no long term lease on the premises”.

“Repeated calls to the airport management staff have resulted in stalling and fire walling.”

In March he even offered to buy the hangar and office from the council and maintain the hangar “to acceptable standards”.

In a letter dated October 6, 2009, and signed by the council CEO Andrew Brien, the council’s official position is quoted as coming from a resolution made by the former Maryborough City Council in November 2007.

Mr Brien writes the council is bound by the resolution, is carrying out a study about the future use and operation of both its airports and it wouldn’t be in the council’s “best interest to provide any long-term lease arrangements over the existing hangar”.

“This letter was written in October,” Mr Miller said. “I’ve been asking for a decade. I’m not alone in this. I know of three businessmen who want to start up or expand here and they can’t and won’t while council vacillates.”

Council staff are on holidays until January 4 so could not be contacted for a response.



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