The region’s aerial patrol has been grounded amid talk of conflict within the organisation and the resignation of its chief pilot.
Naming rights sponsor Bendigo Bank froze the service’s account on Thursday, six days after the patrol’s board of directors was replaced at a four-hour annual general meeting said to have featured “good debate”.
“The Aerial Patrol will fly again, providing the community support continues as it always has''
Harry Mitchell, the patrol’s general manager and one of four directors who did not re-nominate at Friday’s AGM, was advised of the freeze in a telephone call from the bank on Thursday.
Mr Mitchell would not provide a full account of the conversation to the Mercury, but said: “I think Bendigo Bank can obviously sense that somewhere there’s a conflict within the organisation and until that conflict is sorted they’ve taken the action they have”.
Troubles within the 58-year-old service are linked to the resignation of chief pilot Warren Gengos.
According to Mr Mitchell, Mr Gengos flagged his intention to retire about two years ago, prompting interviews to find his replacement.
He said Mr Gengos opted to stay with the service after the leading candidate was eventually deemed unsuitable.
“We retained Mr Gengos on a reduced level of activity and that allowed us to continue our aviation in accordance with CASA requirements,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Last Monday I received an email from [Mr Gengos] advising me that he wished to retire on [March 29].
“I don’t know [why], you would have to ask him.
“I can tell you that our volunteers were more than shocked and dismayed at his actions.”
The Mercury is attempting to contact Mr Gengos.
Mr Mitchell had indicated his own retirement was nearing, initially citing September 30, 2015 as the date he would walk.
He told the Mercury he had delayed those plans because “there are still some exciting things that I am wishing to resolve”.
“My time [to resign] is coming close,” he said.
Talks between Mr Mitchell and the bank are expected to continue today.
“The Aerial Patrol will fly again, providing the community support continues as it always has,” Mr Mitchell said.
“All we require is to replace the chief pilot and that will allow us, under our license with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to take to the skies again.”