AOPA Australia CEO Ben Morgan has labeled threatened airport closures as the largest problem facing general aviation in Australia today.
Speaking at a seminar at Ausfly on Friday, Morgan said that dealing with municipal airport owners was a greater issue than tackling the regulators.
"I actually think that CASA has become a secondary problem over the years," Morgan said. "There is a growing trend right now that local councils are making decisions that airports are not needed anymore. Right now we are battling 27 local councils over 27 airports that are at a risk of closure and it’s a really difficult fight.
"The largest argument is the argument of risk, and a lot of this has come up in the last year after CASA reworked CASR Part 139 [aerodrome regulations]. CASA has a framework of standards for registered aerodromes, and those regulations are so extreme that many local councils are thinking they can’t meet the standard. Their initial reaction is if they can’t meet the standard for a registered airport, then there’s a liability issue and they’re going to be sued.
"Councils have no understanding that an airport can be run as an ALA quite successfully and the risks can be managed more easily. Our frustration is that we know that from an industry perspective. ALA’s can be virtually anywhere and the pilot in command takes the decision to land, so the pilot takes on the liability to decide if the airport is suitable for them to take-off and land."
Morgan told the gathering that AOPA was making ground as an advocate for keeping airports open, thanks to other associations shouldering part of the load and AOPA's growing understanding about the way local councils operated.
"Our engagement with councils over the past has not been effective," he admitted. "It’s taken a number of years to learn how to be an effective advocate, to battle councillors, local government mentality and to support the local community.
"There was an 'A-ha!' moment about two years ago when we realised they weren’t aviation people, and we had to start at the very bottom with them; get in there and build up their general knowledge.
"We’re trying to take a more inclusive approach and partner with the councils; trying to reinforce the relationship and get airport advisory committees set-up. Through that process we’ve been able to work with General Managers and CEOs and airport managers so they understand there’s ways to mitigate and manage their risk.
"In the last six months we’ve become much more effective and we’ve been able to get to a situation where local councils have decided to close airports and not renew leases, and we’ve been able to turn that around."
Morgan cited Gympie in QLD and Georgetown in Tasmania as airports where AOPA had had wins at airports threatened with closure or inappropriate development.