The Civil Aviation Safety Authority told Australian Flying yesterday that the results of the May 2021 VFR equipment survey has given them insights that they never had before.
The statement comes as CASA prepares to deliver the first of two industry briefings on the results tomorrow, Friday 1 October.
CASA Safety Analyst Simon McDonald said that the survey attracted 1936 respondents and provided information about 2245 individual aircraft, a participation level that has particularly pleased the regulator.
"There was no specific task for this information other than the fact that we were constantly being asked to answer these questions and we couldn't for whatever reason," McDonald said. "At least now we have something and will look to improve on that in the subsequent years.
"We have a reasonable understanding of what IFR aircraft are equipped with because we mandate so heavily on that, but VFR we don't, so if we don't ask and we don't get told, we often don't know. So we're very grateful to the industry and hope for further participation in the future."
The survey asked aircraft owners about fitment of radios, ADS-B, GNSS and transponders, but also about the use of electronic flight bags (EFB). Some the the data collected supported previous assumptions whereas other results contained surprises for CASA.
Perhaps the stand-out result was that around 57% of all VFR aircraft have not voluntarily adopted ADS-B in any form and that only about 20% have IFR-standard ADS-B Out. About 5.5% reported using non-TSO conspicuity devices.
"When it came to ADS-B, we didn't have any expectations of what that number would be," McDonald said, "but the report shows that around 40% of general aviation aircraft are equipped with some form of ADS-B.
"That information is really valuable to CASA, because it means when we're thinking about the usage of ADS-B in the future and how industry uses it, we have that insight to support our findings."
McDonald pointed out that the survey results are not intended to drive future policy such as ADS-B mandates.
One data set showed that almost no GA aeroplanes carry no radio at all and that around 62% had more than one comm, but that around 83% of sport aviation aircraft don't carry radios.
Another result indicated that 36% of VFR aircraft owners are still running Mode A/C transponders, with only about 9% having upgraded to IFR or non-IFR mode S systems.
"It's an interesting data set; I don't think we knew that," McDonald told Australian Flying. "Of course you can still run a Mode A/C provided you maintain it rather than replace it, so we're treating that with a bit of caution because there's a whole heap of reasons why you wouldn't have to get your transponder maintained over the past two years.
"It's interesting to see how far back we are on that, and what that means in terms of the effectiveness."
But perhaps the most surprising result of all for CASA was that 80% of all GA VFR aircraft owners indicated they used an EFB in their aeroplane.
"We were really surprised by that result because the use of EFBs is very high in Australia, in the order of 80% for GA fleet and 60-70% for the sport aviation fleet," McDonald said. "That's not something that we would have had insight to without conducting this survey."
Despite the pleasing participation level and the integrity of the findings, CASA has said that the new data wouldn't lead directly to decisions being made based on the new knowledge.
"We're mindful of the fact that while we do think that this is a generally good set of representative data for the nation, it doesn't lead directly to making a decision based on it," McDonald pointed out. "It's more of a data source for us to consider rather than a definitive answer for us. It doesn't take away the need for us to continue to consult.
"For us to consider the impact on VFR we really do need to know a lot more about what VFR aircraft carry in terms of equipment. We often do that sporadically through aeronautical studies or feedback on proposals. This was an attempt to get a more national idea on what's going on.
"We want to say thank you. I don't think we anticipated we'd get such a big response and it's great that we did."
CASA will hold the first of two free industry briefings on the survey results tomorrow night online. As the first one has already been fully subscribed, CASA has scheduled a second briefing for Wednesday 13 October at 2.00 pm.