Figures set to appear in the next CASA annual report reveal a decline in Certificates of Approval (COA) for maintenance companies over the past five years.
The data shows that CASA currently has 619 approved maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies on their books compared with 733 in 2011-12, a drop-off of 15%.
According to the AOPA Australia, the trend is worst over the last 12 months.
"Between April of 2016 and June of 2017 only 15 new COAs have been issued to industry," says AOPA CEO Ben Morgan, referring to data supplied by CASA, "whilst during the same period 29 have been canceled and a further 27 are in a state of suspension. Collectively, some 56 COAs have been either canceled or suspended. This equates to 3.73 business per month."
Ken Cannane, Executive Director of the Aviation Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Business Association (AMROBA) says the downward trend in MRO approvals can be traced back to a decision taken over 25 years ago to do away with independent flying instructors.
"The approved MRO numbers show our industry is declining, and something has to be done about it, if its not too late," Cannane told Australian Flying.
"One of the root causes is that CASA won't allow independent flying instructors. When we did have them, young people used to go out to the local airfield to learn to fly. Now they can't do that, so they don't get involved with aviation. This has caused a decline in aircraft usage, and a loss of flying hours means a loss of business to MROs.
"We can't correct the situation until CASA allows independent flying instructors and we can get flying again. Independent instructors are a proven method of teaching people to fly, and the lack of is the single biggest cause for the decline of general aviation.
"If CASA would lift their head out of the sand and reinstate independent instructors the industry might not go into overnight revival, but at least it can start to recover."
Cannane also cites complex and over-bearing regulations that place a high burden on smaller MROs for the decline, and difficulty in getting skilled staff and apprentices into the industry.
"Small MROs can't keep up with the regulations nowadays," he said. "They were designed for airlines. It used to be simpler when all you had to do was prove you complied with the CAOs during an audit.
"The apprentice intake is on the decline. Not so long ago we were taking in 450 per year. Next year there we will be lucky if 30 are taken on.
"We need a USA system for general aviation now."
Morgan believes the data supports AOPA's warning given in May last year that a lack of action from the government would mean loss of jobs.
In a letter addressed to Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester, Morgan said, "The AOPA Australia called on you at the Tamworth aviation rally [6 May last year] ... "to pledge your support to Australia's general aviation industry, with respect to driving genuine regulatory reform that would arrest decline and set our industry on a pathway to growth.
"It was clearly communicated, that should you as Minister do nothing and stay with the status quo, the result would be further business closures and unemployment.
"The data released by CASA confirms the AOPA position and our concerns."
CASA, however, is not convinced the downward trend can be attributed solely to regulation.
“There are a range of factors influencing the statistics in relation to approvals for maintenance organisations," a CASA spokesperson said.
"There has been some movement of maintenance for larger aircraft to offshore facilities due to economic factors. In the smaller aircraft sector there has been a movement of some general aviation operations to Recreational Aviation Australia. RA-AUS aircraft may be covered by owner maintenance.
"It would be incorrect to suggest that movements in the number of maintenance or other aviation organisations can be attributed directly to regulatory issues only. Aviation is a complex industry and a simplistic analysis of data is not valid.”