"Why would you choose Maryborough?" was often the question asked of VFR Projects founder Justin Miller by lenders when floating his idea of an airpark residential lifestyle community on Queensland's Fraser Coast.
A seasoned real estate and construction professional, and also an owner of the RE/MAX franchise in the Gold Coast area of Robina, Miller used to be an airline pilot back in South Africa before he changed careers and later moved to Australia in 2009.
Inspired by the airpark estates that are more common in the United States, often known as fly-in communities, Miller has long wanted to marry his two seemingly disparate areas of expertise into a new concept for the Australian property market - starting with Queensland.
Areas around the major population hubs of the Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast have controlled airspace, but from Miller's perspective there is a mindset shift required when developing property with aviation in mind.
"One of the unique things about aviation is that it’s three-dimensional. It’s not just on the ground - it's obviously in the air as well. Once aeroplanes come into the mix, suddenly time on the ground and distance are a lot less relative to how long you’re going to take to get there," says Miller.
"People would say Maryborough is a 3.5-hour drive from Brisbane, but I'd say it's only a 30-40 minute flight from Brisbane. So anybody who owns an aeroplane could potentially work in the city and live in Maryborough quite easily.
"In fact, I live on the Gold Coast and it takes me an hour and five minutes to get to Aquila, so I could potentially live in Aquila, get to the Gold Coast and into the office before I could drive from the Gold Coast to Brisbane."
It is not just logistics however that are propelling interest in the Aquila Estate & Flying Club, a 62-block project by the Ferguson State Forest outside Maryborough which broke ground earlier this month in a ceremony attended by Fraser Coast Regional Council Mayor George Seymour, with plans to build a communal runway as well as a clubhouse and luxury amenities.
Miller explains that someone who owns an aircraft currently would need to spend between $1,500 and $2,000 a month to keep it in a hangar, and in most cases the owner would live 30 to 40 minutes from that airport. What he is pitching to buyers at Aquila is that they can instead put that money towards a mortgage and body corporate.
He says the location is also a great "launchpad" to see the best of what Queensland has to offer, as it is close to K'Gari/Fraser Island, Harvey Bay, the southernmost parts of the Great Barrier Reef such as Lady Elliot Island and Musgrave Island, with easy access to the hinterland as well.
Maryborough itself is a heritage architecture gem and is curiously a hotspot of Mary Poppins-themed tourism, as it was the birthplace of PL Travers who authored the books. More than a century later, Miller highlights a pipeline of manufacturing developments and industries from building carriages to a munitions plant, which are expected to boost the economy in years to come.
Miller emphasises that being an uncontrolled airspace gives pilots at Aquila much more freedom, although the rules of the community will be for daytime flying only. He clarifies that no commercial activities will be allowed either, such as flying schools, training operations or parachuting trips.
He clarifies the site is a registered Approved Landing Area (ALA), which is one rung below the certified aerodrome status of major airports. No control tower is required, and pilots are expected to self-regulate through radio communication.
"It’s been an interesting project from a sales point of view, because they are a few of these kind of projects around Australia. But a lot of these airparks that have come about are near an airport or runway that’s already there," he says, mentioning Cumulus near Gympie and an estate at Shute Harbour near Airline Beach as examples.
"The problem is with some of those is the actual runway isn’t owned by the development – you’ve got people that live there, but now they've got flying schools, they’ve got parachutists jumping out there, and then suddenly the peaceful environment that they were hoping to have is no longer there.
"At Aquila it's only allowed for private flying, which now makes it much more enjoyable for someone who actually lives here not having all these planes landing all the time."
He says 17 blocks have been sold so far, and notes there is also a list of another 15 prospective buyers who were waiting for it to break ground.
"There are about 15,000-20,000 people that own aeroplanes in the country. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’re really only looking for 62 up there, and there is demand for this kind of thing," he says.
"What this does is it affords someone the opportunity to have their base there, especially people that are potentially retiring; they can live there and fly out to where they want to."
Miller says there have also been buyers from Sydney and Melbourne who will have holiday homes at Aquila as a base to explore various parts of Queensland.
"We’ve actually got some international buyers as well," he adds.
"As it stands right now, most of our buyers are aviation enthusiasts or owners of aircraft, and we’ve actually got people who are influential within the aviation industry."
VFR Projects comprises three directors - Justin Miller, construction professional Victor Stark and realtor Russel Segal.
Stark's company Goldie Projects will be available to build homes in the estate, but Miller says buyers will be able to choose their builders.
"VFR is really only doing the land subdivision and infrastructure. Once people buy their lots it will be up to them to decide who they want to get to build their homes," Miller explains.
Aquila, which means 'Eagle' in Italian, is no doubt an audacious project, but in Miller's view it is not too different to building a real estate project around boating anchorage, except in this case it's for aviation enthusiasts.
"There's even demand for us to obviously start looking at doing these across different states and creating a flying network of Aquila estate where people can actually fly from, or house share in certain ways; there’s a lot of that community feel around this sort of project."
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