The Illawarra’s iconic red and yellow shark-spotting planes were back in the sky on Saturday following a brief hiatus caused by internal turbulence.
The Australian Aerial Patrol (AAP) was grounded last month after the resignation of its chief pilot left the service without the operating licence required by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
The Mercury can reveal a new chief pilot has been appointed and patrols over the region’s beaches were able to resume on Saturday morning.
“We got CASA’s authorisation late yesterday afternoon [Friday],” general manager Harry Mitchell said.
After about a month out of action, the planes will be a feature of the sky over the region’s coastline on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays until April 25.
Mr Mitchell said CASA had “bent over backwards” to prioritise the two-day chief pilot assessment because the regulatory body was aware of “the community angst down here”.
“We’ve worked very hard to get the aerial patrol planes back up,” he said.
“Our commitment to the community is paramount.”
Mr Mitchell described the aerial patrol’s hiatus as a “small interruption”, adding the service had conducted more patrols during the summer 2015/16 season than any previous year.
The chief pilot is yet to undergo a chief flying instructor assessment, but Mr Mitchell said that was expected to take place “in the next couple of weeks”.
The AAP’s descent into an uncertain future began when the organisation’s bank accounts were frozen on March 4.
Two days later, then chief pilot Warren Gengos brought forward his retirement, offering just five hours notice of his resignation.
The bank accounts were reactivated within days and the funds shifted to another bank.
Late last month, Bendigo Bank – the patrol’s then naming rights sponsor – ended its sponsorship deal, which had spanned more than a decade.
The Mercury understands a new sponsorship deal could be announced as early as next week.