Throughout all the ups and downs, the peaks and troughs, general aviation is still going after another year of turmoil and change. Some of that change holds promise; some of it holds pain. As we prepare to look forward to 2020 it's a good time also to look back on the way 2019 unfolded. Here are the top seven stories that made up the general aviation year-that-was.
#7 – Senate Inquiry into CASA
A late story to top off the year, the Senate Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee announced another inquiry into the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This time the promised focus is the impact of regulation on GA. The story was met with optimism, opposition, apathy and excitement as the GA community began to wonder if we really did need another inquiry. Unlike the Aviation Safety Regulation Review (ASRR) of five years ago, this one is not sanctioned by the minister, which means after all the works is done and the report tabled, the government is under no obligation to respond to it. On the plus side, any focus on the ails of GA is good for the aviation community and the senators will get the story very loud and very clear.
#6 – Regional Airports Grant Program
This 2019 election promise got off to a stuttering start with the beginning scheduled for 1 July not actually happening until late October. The program promises $100 milion for upgrading airports that are situated in regional areas, complementing the Remote Airstrips Upgrade Program (RAUP). With many regional airports decaying for lack of funding, the scheme was roundly applauded by the industry and in particular the Australian Airports Association, which has been ringing bells about the parlous state of regional airports for some time. The first round will tip $45 million into regional aviation in the next two years alone.
Coalition pledges Millions to Regional Airports 1 April 2019
Federal Government launches Regional Airports Grant Program 11 October 2019
#5 – Australian Pilot Training Alliance
After a regulatory disaster that cost him over $1 million, flying instructor and business owner Glen Buckley took on CASA over their attitudes and actions in granting the Australian Pilot Training Alliance a Part 142 approval, only to effectively then rule the organisation illegal. The meetings, e-mails and wrangling went on for months as his company struggled on underneath mounting costs, with Buckley seeking recompense from CASA and a definitive ruling on his approval. After selling the company for the value of it's debts only, Buckley launched a GoFundMe page that has since raised over $50,000 from the GA community to fund a legal challenge. This story is far from over.
#4 – Matt Hall's Red Bull Air Race World Championship
The sudden truncation of the 2019 Red Bull Air Race Series and cancelation of any future races severely reduced Australian Matt Hall's opportunities to realise a dream of being a World Champion. Second three times in his career, the driven Aussie was in a good spot to challenge yet again when the last four races of the season were axed. Hall went to the last ever race in Chiba, Japan, knowing that only a great performance for he and his team would prevent his from wondering what might have been for decades to come. With it all on the line, Matt and his team took their final opportunity, and after circumstances fell their way, held the championship trophy on high for the first time. Hall had scored more points than any other pilot since 2014, so there was no more deserving winner that the man from Newcastle.
#3 – CASR Part 149 and Maximum Take-off Weight Increase
Pressure ramped-up on CASA in 2019 as they prepared to put CASR Part 149 - Approved Aviation Self-administering Organisation (ASAO) into play. Part 149 legitimises the self-administration functions of organisation such as RAAus, the Australian Parachute Federation and the Gliding Federation of Australia by creating legislation rather than having them operate by exemptions. Part 149 has been opposed by some GA groups, most notably AOPA Australia and the SAAA, both of which have claimed that Part 149 is an attempt to privatise administration and create monopolies and unfair advantages. Although the focus was mainly on an imbalance between the medical regimes, the whole issue was inflamed as CASA put out consultation that would increase the maximum take-off weight of ASAO aircraft from 600 kg to 750 kg, potentially capturing several types that are traditional GA aircraft. Reponses from AOPA Australia and the SAAA recommended a complete revision of the self-administration system including harmonised regulations. The issue was even subject to a Senate inquiry.
RAAus Weight Increase Consultation due Mid Year 2 March 2019
Sport Aircraft Association out of Part 149 18 July 2019
AOPA calls for Harmonised Regulations 8 October 2019
SAAA opposes Weight Increase for RAAus 21 October 2019
CASA publishes MTOW Increase Feedback 6 December 2019
#2 – Changes to the Civil Aviation Act
It started with a 2018 push from Dick Smith and the Australian General Aviation Alliance, but was completed in 2019, albeit not in the form the proponents really wanted. Bipartisan support from both the government and the opposition made a change to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 that required CASA to take into account the economic impact on the aviation industry when it framed new regulation. That provision was in the minister's Statement of Expectations, but it was thought by many that enshrining it in the Act would give it more power. However, the government did not make the change the industry was pushing for: to remove the primacy of safety. Regardless, the government spruiked the legislation as a major win for the aviation community and the legislation walked through both houses with dissent only from the Green corner.
Minister introduces Civil Aviation Act Amendment to Parliament 21 February 2019
Act Amendment Bill doesn't go Far Enough: Albanese 5 April 2019
Senate votes down Green Objections to the Civil Aviation Bill 23 July 2019
#1 – Community Service Flight Regulations
Without doubt the most controversial issue to dog general aviation in 2019, the ongoing saga over CASA's new regulations surrounding community service flights (CSF) divided the GA community, took up a lot of time in the senate, brought mathematics into the equation and ended up in court twice. Following two fatal flight involving Angel Flight, CASA introduced restrictions on the pilots and aeroplanes that could be used in CSFs. The foundation of CASA's justification was that statistics showed that CSFs were more likely to result in an incident or accident than a normal private flight. But like all statistics, they could be read more ways than one, and Angel Flight contended that CASA's reading was wrong. When the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released an investigation report into an Angel Flight crash that focused on Angel Flight's management moreso than the cause of the crash, the issue went feral. A disallowance motion against the CASA legislation was introduced into the senate, but was ultimately defeated by bipartisan opposition. A senate inquiry into the ATSB's handling of the investigation resulted in no recommendations against the ATSB, but two against CASA, raising questions about what was happening behind the closed doors of Canberra. It started in 2018, played out across 2019 and will carry on into 2020.
CASA to push Ahead with Community Service Restrictions 13 February 2019
Centre Alliance to move against new CSF Regulations 19 February 2019
Senate grills CASA over Community Service Flights 27 February 2019
Federal Court rules against Angel Flight 19 March 2019
Community Service Accidents: the CASA Data 11 April 2019
Angel Flight confirms Court Action 24 April 2019
Angel Flight should be using Public Transport: ATSB 13 August 2019
ATSB wears Kickback over Angel Flight Report 15 August 2019
Senate Committee to probe ATSB over Mount Gambier Report 23 August 2019
TAAAF backs CASA and ATSB in Angel Flight Ruckus 11 September 2019
ATSB escapes RRAT Hearing with no Recommendations 7 October 2019
Angel Flight Disallowance defeated in the Senate 21 October 2019
McDonald slams CASA over Angel Flight Rejection 25 October 2019
ATSB reinforces Recommendation in Letter to Angel Flight 7 November 2019