As aviation years go, 2020 will be memorable for a viral uncertainty that stymied any chance of growth and made even sustainability seem unachievable. That's the sort of thing that happens when a once-in-a-century pandemic dominates every industry, not just aviation. It was almost impossible to remain optimistic, especially for an industry so prone to pessimism. But it was not without cause; income streams ran dry for many operators and financial support from the Federal Government was nebulous despite the trumpeting from Canberra. For many regions, none more than metro Melbourne, the fun part of aviation had to be put on the backburner as pilots and operators focused on simply making it through the COVID storm.
Despite all of that, general aviation, as it always does, went on regardless. Some charter companies reported a boost in business as travelers, devoid of the usual reliability of the airlines, turned to GA to fill the gaps. It wasn't quite a silver lining, but it was better than nothing at all. And there were other stories than COVID.
Goodbye ... and thank you
Aviation was weakened by the losses of several of our most passionate supporters. Perhaps the most high-profile was Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier and an iconic name in aviation history. We also lost Rudy Frasca, who's flight simulation systems have cultivated thousands of IFR ratings. Closer to home, Australian Flying was devastated by the death of former executive editor and GA champion Paul Phelan, the man whose writing dogged dubious regulation at every turn. The Australian Women Pilots Association mourned the iconic and much-honoured pioneer Senja Robey, who, as an instructor, nurtured the careers of many aspiring pilots.
Inquiry goes on
The senate inquiry into the state of the GA industry should have been the largest story of the year, but COVID measures and border closures prevented any great progress. In the end, only one public hearing made it onto the schedule, and most of that was done by video link. Not even the chairperson, senator Susan McDonald was in the committee room. Submissions were, as always, strong and passionate. In the end, the committee fulfilled their reporting obligations by stating they had nothing to report due to COVID. But that was only the interim report; the inquiry will go on in 2021 with the final report due in November ... COVID permitting.
CASA under the Microscope: the Scrutiny begins
Buckley levels Accusations of Misfeasance against CASA
Sport Aircraft Association calls for End to ASAO System
CASA shackled on Risk-based Regulation: RAAA
Pilot Union bids for Seat on Advisory Panel
End of the Airvan
Australia was forced to swallow a very bitter pill when the 20-year production run of its pride, the GippsAero GA8 Airvan, came to an end. The most successful certified aircraft made in Australia in terms of numbers, the Airvan found a niche right around the world as a very capable utility. GippsAero's parent company, Indian conglomerate Mahindra Aerospace, began to re-think its involvement in aircraft manufacture, although the reasons for the decision were never made clear throughout the year. Culture clash was often cited as a reason for the aircraft's demise; over-engineering and wasted resources was another. Late in the year, Mahindra put GippsAero on the market, but burdened the offering with a desire to re-coup the investment they put into the company over their 10-year tenure as owner. By the end of 2020, it was thought that GippsAero had several suitors, but no deal had been announced. It could be that 2021 sees the revival of this Australian classic.
A matter of stalling
Possibly the great controversy of 2020 was the issue of stalling the BRM Bristell LSA. After accidents related to stalling, CASA issued a warning to owners about stalling, saying they had information that the aircraft did not conform to LSA standards despite the manufacturers assurances that it did. That later transformed into a stall ban on the aircraft even though BRM Aero handed over the test data. The issue went loud when BRM Aero representative Edge Aerospace contested almost everything CASA stated as reasons for the ban. They took the issue first to the Deputy Prime Minister, then lodged a complaint with the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Process was called into question as perhaps a larger issue than any problem with the aircraft.
BRM alleges Inequity in Bristell Overweight Issue
CASA referred to Commonwealth Ombudsman over Bristell
CASA issues Warning over Bristell CoG
CASA doubles down on Bristell Stall Ban
Letter to Minister urges Rethink on Bristell
BRM hits back over CASA Stall Ban
CASA to ban Stalls in Bristells
CASA issues Safety Alert on Popular LSA
The show must not go on
One-by-one they fell as COVID-19 skittled the aviation calendar. Bans on outdoor crowds caused a rapid cancelation of largely every air show, convention and exhibition planned for 2020. Avalon, Wings over Illawarra, Ausfly, Warbirds Downunder, Rotortech ... postponed or canceled outright. Wings over Illawarra was postponed twice as coronavirus measures and uncertainty robbed the aviation industry of its parties. These events take mammoth amounts of organisation and work on behalf of very dedicated people, and it must have been twice as heartbreaking for them to have to make the call to postpone as it was to the potential attendees.
These were the largest stories, but we also saw two high-level administrators moving on: RAAus CEO Michael Linke and CASA Director of Aviation Safety Shane Carmody. Defying the COVID-wobbles, new aeroplanes in the BRM B23, Tecnam P2010 TDi, DA50 RG, Pipistrel Velis Electro and others joined the ranks of the GA aircraft fleet, displaying an underlying confidence that, as usual, GA will go on.
It will be very interesting to see how far it can go in 2021.