Northern Territory helicopter operators gave evidence to the senate inquiry into the state of the general aviation industry on Tuesday, citing several issues they believe are impacting their businesses.
The hearing, chaired by Senator Susan McDonald, was held via video link, with NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy also asking questions of the operators.
Agrimuster/Katharine Helicopters, Outback Helicopter Airwork, and Alice Springs Helicopters all raised issues with the senators, including:
- fuel problems with 100LL damaging cylinders
- franchised operators not being properly audited, meaning they have lower costs than those with their own AOC
- defect reports submitted to CASA, but not acted on
- poor flight training standards in new CPLs
- difficulties with flight reviews and checks with qualified check pilots needing to be brought from interstate.
Paul Blore from Outback Helicopter Airwork recommended that 100LL be removed from the market to prevent damage to cylinders in piston engines. Some operators have been able to source 100/130 fuel, which they say has alleviated the problem.
"Our recommendation is to go back to the original 100/130 fuel," he told the senators. "Since 2017, I've done 49 cylinders. I bought a brand-new aircraft not long ago, over $600,000 worth, and in the first 170 hours of that aircraft, I've done three cylinders. Under 200 hours: that's less than 5% of the life of that aircraft engine.
"And this is a common problem; we don't seem to get the life out of the engines with low-lead. Since I've changed over to the leaded fuel, it's cured the problem."
Blore found support from Warwick Curr of Alice Springs Helicopters.
"I've been very fortunate," Curr said. "As soon as we received our first shipment of 100/130, we were able to get all of our clients onto the same fuel. I guess for awhile there I was the only person to be able to do that, and the results were immediate. We haven't had a cylinder failure since those first drums came into our possession.
"Our recommendation is that 100LL should just be removed from the marketplace; it's not fit for use."
The issue of flight reviews and proficiency checks is one that has dogged the helicopter industry since the CASR Part 61 was introduced, with a lack of qualified people available under the new ruleset.
"The proficiency checks are a nightmare," Blore told the hearing. "[We've] constantly got to get people up from other states to do my checks, which is yearly. For instance, I just got someone up only a few weeks ago, so extra costs for air fares, accommodation, vehicle costs were [about] $5000 for the day, just for him to come up and check a couple of us out for the aerial application side of things.
"I've got friends in NSW and QLD, who can drive 20 minutes down the road and it costs them $400."
Blore recommended that CASA revert to the old system, where a company Chief Pilot was able to conduct checks, given that Outback Helicopter Airwork was constantly checking their pilots anyway.
"We're constantly checking and training ourselves," he said, "but CASA still wants to micro-manage us for every little [thing] that we do."
Blore recommended that the situation be solved by allowing a Chief Pilot from one Part 137 (aerial application) operator to check a Chief Pilot from another Part 137 operation.
The senate inquiry is scheduled to hold several more public hearings between now and December when the final report is due to be tabled.