Aviation IRC Chair Profile

In this month’s newsletter we continue a series of profiles featuring the chairs of each of the 11 Industry Reference Committees (IRCs) we support. The chairs have a wealth of experience in their relevant industries and have one thing in common – they are all passionate advocates of Vocational Educational and Training.

This month we profile the Chair of the Aviation IRC, Stephen Leahy

How did you come to work in your industry?

I initially got involved with aviation when I was a general duties police officer at Avondale Heights in Victoria. The Police Air Wing was at Essendon Airport and we would often call in to the base on night shift.  When I became a detective, I did several drug crop detection flights on board Air490.  That was nearly 30 years ago!

When I left Victoria Police, I went to work for surf lifesaving and one of the first things I had to do was act as a patient in a helicopter rescue demonstration.  That was it.  I became a Rescue Crew Officer and then an Air Crew Officer as well as going on to manage the Westpac Life Saver services in Queensland.  I’ve worked in search and rescue, particularly aviation, ever since. It’s a very different environment these days.

What is your current role?

I’m now the Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s first civilian rescue helicopter service, the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopters.  We provide aviation search and rescue services in NSW for the NSW Police Force, Surf Life Saving NSW, the NSW State Emergency Service, the Australian Federal Police, Fire + Rescue NSW and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.  The role has an excellent mix of strategic leadership and high-level operational performance.  I engage with our major stakeholders from the emergency services but maintain a strong partnership with our sponsors and funding partners, the Westpac Bank and the NSW State Government.   With my little spare time, I’m also our Chief Remote Pilot on our Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) program.

What is the best part of your job?

Our team – by far.   I work with incredibly passionate people who believe in what we do, and that leads to the next favourite thing.  We are all bound by the immense desire to save lives and make a real difference to the lives of individuals and families.

Why are you an advocate for Vocational Education and Training?

We have the ability to deliver standardised quality training and skills to an ever-growing workforce.  These programs have been developed by the industry.  When workers become skilled, we are mitigating risks and we can tackle the ever-changing technological environment.  An excellent example is the recent work undertaken by the RPA Technical Advisory Committee. Their work, in conjunction with training organisations and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as the regulator, developed updated and new qualifications that are in line with licencing requirements and industry needs whilst recognising the increasing community and commercial use of drones and rapid advancement in technology.

What has your organisation done to develop the skills of your workforce?

The competencies required of our workforce, along with the rest of the aviation industry is governed – to various extents – by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. These are enshrined in legislation.   Over time, we have produced resources such as the Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) simulator, winch simulators and onboard cameras that allow us to review and debrief each rescue mission.  We now see our team become trainers, providing a learning environment to other workers in the aviation and public safety industries.

Through my work with the IRC, regulations and qualifications are becoming much more aligned so our organisations’ team finds it easier to gain the qualification for the skills they are already licenced for.

What are you passionate about? What makes you smile? 

You can probably guess that I’m genuinely passionate about our work here at the Westpac Life Saver Helicopters.  There is nothing better that seeing the jubilation of the crew when they have saved someone’s life.   On the home front, it is simply hanging out with my wonderful partner whether it be at home or on a beach in some part of the world – where I still get reminded to swim between the flags!


The Aviation Industry Reference Committee (IRC) is responsible for the Aviation Training Package. The Committee oversees the development of industry competency skills standards and qualifications in the Aviation industry.

The AVI Aviation Training Package provides the only nationally recognised Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualifications for occupations involved in: Aerodrome Operations, Airport Safety, Ground Operations, Cargo Services, Customer Service, Aviation Transport Security Protection, Aviation Search and Rescue, Management and Supervision, Air Traffic Control, Flight Operations (Pilots – aeroplane, helicopter, commercial, military, remote and pilot in command) and Flight Instruction.