General aviation activist Dick Smith last week presented a six-point plan for revitalising the industry to a gathering at Wagga Wagga.
Addressing an audience of around 100 people, Smith outlined what he believed were the major obstacles to a vibrant general aviation industry in Australia, including the Civil Aviation Act, which put a priority on safety, over-regulation that introduces unnecessary costs to the industry and a political system that encourages politicians to resist change.
Toward the end of the presentation, Smith proposed his six-point plan to resolve issues that are holding back the general aviation industry.
- Change the wording of the Civil Aviation Act to remove safety as the absolute priority
- Ensure CASA concentrates regulatory re-writes on removing unnecessary cost
- Harmonise regulations with the simpler and lower-cost US system
- Get people with talent and experience as aviation advisors to the minister
- Second experienced aviation experts to CASA for a period of two years
- Convince governments to treat aviation safety in a bi-partisan way and stop political point-scoring.
Smith focused much of his presentation on the need to re-write the Civil Aviation Act, which states: CASA must regard the safety of air navigation as the most important consideration.
"Now that sounds like a great motherhood statement," Smith told the gathering. "In fact, it more a dishonest marketing slogan that would suit a fly-by-night shonky airline ... or one of our major banks.
"It's a lie, because there are many times when the most important consideration is cost. That's just commonsense. For example, airline aircraft could be fitted with ejection capsules for each seat that could be activated at the time of a hijack. Safety would be improved, but the cost of the air tickets would be prohibitive.
"To this day, the bureaucrats have fought to ensure that this wording remains, and this has been the driving force behind the destruction of our once viable general aviation industry."
Smith was Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority from 1990-92, and of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority from 1997-99. During that time, he said he encountered entrenched resistance to moving the focus of the Act away from safety.
"I was shocked each time I was Chair of the safety regulator in Canberra to see how people, once the emotive word 'safety' came up, were not game to apply the commonsense that I'd experienced in private enterprise for over 30 years," he said.
"You can't blame individual politicians for this. The vast majority are as honest as any Australians; it's the system we have evolved, and we have to fix it. Even though I have concentrated on the story about aviation, this is also the explanation of why so many are disillusioned about our democratic system."
Smith said that he recently met with then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Barnaby Joyce and Shadow Minister Anthony Albanese and reached an agreement for the Act to be changed. However, Joyce resigned two weeks afterward and his replacement as minister Michael McCormack has yet to agree with the proposed changes, saying he needed to consider the proposal more.
"The new minister ... Mr Michael McCormack, has a huge opportunity to support these commonsense changes to get aviation, especially aviation in the bush, thriving again," Smith concluded. "We could become the world leaders in flying training ... tens of millions of additional export dollars could be earned promoting massive investment in both infrastructure and services in our country towns and regional centres."
Wagga Wagga is in the electorate of Riverina, currently held by McCormack, ensuring the town has recently become a focal point of general aviation lobbying and activism.