Aviation–like most of the world–embarked on 2021 armed with a belief that the year would see the end of the pandemic and a return to normal life. Twelve months later such faith seems naive as the Omicron strain takes coronavirus in Australia to levels once thought impossible. But despite border closures, lockdowns, anti-vax demonstrations and restrictions on top of restrictions, life in general aviation went on, albeit under greater strain that it had been before. New aircraft continued on their development paths as did research into new power sources, new regulations and proposals were implemented and the battle against bureaucracy was fought with even greater vigour. This is what 2021 looked like from a GA point of view.
Leaving the Best Until Last?
In a move described by some as a Christmas present and others as a brick in wrapping paper, the Federal Goverment released its Aviation Recovery Framework on 20 December. The paper detailed the Coalition's plans to assist the industry to recover from the pandemic, but went further than that, detailing actions to heal some of GA's most tormenting sores. Among the proposed initiatives are a review of the Aviation Act 1988 to remove the primacy of safety, revisiting the Airports Act 1996, which has facilitated the destruction of long-standing infrastructure at GA airports and subsidies for VFR aircraft to fit ADS-B. However, some commentators have pointed out that a federal election is coming up before May 2022 and promises upwind of the ballot box often don't translate into action afterward. Regardless of that, GA associations have greeted the framework like it was the remedy to a Fisher King wound.
RAAus gains Weight
One of RAAus' Holy-Grail ambitions for several years has been a maximum take-off weight increase from 600 kg to 760 kg. In December 2021, it was granted to them after a lot of hard work proving they are capable of administering aircraft in that category. To do so they announced a new type of RPC, a Group G certificate. But there was a catch: CASA refused to grant an increase in stall speed, which manufacturers in Australia said was impossible for any existing designs. It seemed a category-killer, but it is believed CASA has embarked on a program to deal with the issue effectively. As an aside, the GA community rejected the Manual of Standards for CASR Part 103, which was about the design of aircraft for self-administration, forcing the new MTOW to be implemented under an exemption.
The two-year senate inquiry into the state of the GA industry should have tabled its final report by 30 November, but COVID and its spin-off consequences have hampered the ability to gather information of value, forcing a postponement until March 2022. The committee managed to hold hearings in January during which CASA people were accused of misfeasance, then nothing again until September, when only one of several scheduled hearings went ahead. But the year finished on a high in December when one final hearing aired some very awkward questions and demonstrated that the senate committee had a good handle on the state of GA in Australia and what the causes were.
Impact of Complex Regulation not Significant: CASA
Jabiru labels CASA Culture a Manufacturing Obstacle
Buckley calls for Investigation into Misfeasance Claims
GA Inquiry to go Ahead Despite Lockdowns
Change the CASA Culture Now: AAAA
Senate hears from NT Helicopter Operators
Senate Committee extends GA Inquiry Deadline
AFTIA proposes Apprenticeship Scheme for GA Pilots
Back to Barnaby
BJ is back! Former transport minister Barnaby Joyce became the new transport minister in June 2021after ousting Nationals leader Michael McCormick. Joyce had been exiled to the backbench after a scandal relating to a former staffer, but return with a vengence and regained is previous crown as Nationals leader, grasping the transport ministry as he did so. Some in the aviation ministry looked askance because under his previous tenure there achieved not a lot. However, that first tenure was only a few months before the Nationals banished him. Quiet commentators in Canberra are thinking that Barnaby might be the person to get the GA revitalisation bandwagon on the move. One of the first things he did was publish the GAAN strategy paper, which exposed to the world the advice he had been given. That's not something ministers do every day. Could the quiet commentators be right?
Powering the Future
Last year was the year that aviation got very serious about alternative energy sources. The drive to eventually eliminate fossil fuels from aviation took leaps forward in terms of engine development as business aviation leaders committed to a net-zero emissions future. Manufacturers themselves introduced electric models of their aircraft or began development projects aimed at ensuring aviation has a future free of traditional avgas, turbine fuel and carbon emissions. Two Australian companies, Sydney Seaplanes and Nautilus Aviation, started their transitions by ordering eVTOL aircraft in significant numbers.
Sydney Seaplanes orders 50 eVTOLs
Nautilus strikes Mobility Deal with Embraer
Embraer introduces Energia Concept
MAHEPA Consortium flies Panthera with Hybrid Powerchain
Business Aviation Leaders commit to Net Zero
Diamond announces Electric DA40
Canadian Partnership to Develop Hybrid Powerplant
SA Flight lands New Electric Records
Shows that Don't Go on
Cancel culture became reality for general aviation as COVID killed off air show after air show and fly-ins were postponed or struck off the calendar completely. What started out as a year born from optimism declined as the Delta variant of COVID sent many part of Australia into lockdown. Ausfly, Avalon 2021, Warbirds Downunder ... they fell like flies under Mortein. In the end only two of the large events made it to the start line: RotorTech and Wings over Illawarra. What will 2022 bring for air show fan? Avalon was canceled completely, but AMDA has thrown its backing behind the new Fly'n for Fun event in Parkes. Maybe we can all get together then.
Training by Association
One of the biggest changes to advocacy was the formation of the Australian Flight Training Industry Association (AFTIA). AFTIA was set up to tackle a perceived lack of advocacy voice in Canberra, which was blamed for a lack of critical input to regulation such as CASRs part 61, 141 and 142, all of which impact the training industry. Under the guidance of Chair Maddy Johnson, AFTIA was quick out of the blocks with an appearance at the senate inquiry into general aviation.
Community Service in the Courts
Angel Flight had their day in court as they battled CASA's operational restrictions on community service flights. The charity took on the regulator in the Federal Court, but lost the case and had CASA's costs awarded against them. Angel Flight elected not to appeal the ruling, but was still vocal in their criticism of CASA and the restrictions in front of the senate inquiry in December.
A Centenary Missed
It was perhaps the most low-key centenary of any air force. With the RAAF set to celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2021, the centrepiece of the party was supposed to be the Australian International Airshow, scheduled originally for February. When that was postponed until late November, the RAAF still had a chance to show-off in their centenary year. But, like so many other things, COVID had other plans and Avalon 2021 was scrubbed late. In the end, a fly-over in Canberra on 31 March was the main centenary event. Most surprising was that the air force didn't not pick-up the ball and substitute Wings over Illawarra as the key public showing for the year, despite initially showing some interest. Down in Melbourne, civil aviators took matters into their own hands and created an air armada over the birthplace of the RAAF: Point Cook.
Echoes of Airspace
The year started with a killer proposal from Airservices Australia to lower the base of Class E airspace between Cairns and Melbourne to 1500 feet AGL. In most areas, it was at 8500 feet. The concept drew criticism from all quarters and perhaps most stridently from the Gliding Federation of Australia. Under withering pressure, Airservices revised their proposal in March after consultation closed, but the new concept would have the base of the Class E at either 4500, 6500 or 8500 depending on the elevation of the terrain below. Considered perhaps more confusing, the new proposal still didn't satisfy many sectors of GA. Last heard, Airservices was doing further refining and is expected to present new documents to the industry in Q1 2022.
Airservices releases Revised Class E Proposal
Gliding Federation slams Airservices as Class E Proposal ends
Gliding Federation to object to Class E Proposal
Airservices proposes Lower Class E for East Coast