Australia's new Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the National's Darren Chester MP, has had plenty of exposure to the general aviation community over his political career.
Chester, the federal member for Gippsland in Victoria, takes up his new role today, replacing the retiring Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Warren Truss.
Chester started his political career in 2008, when he was elected to the National's safe seat of Gippsland, following the retirement of Peter McGauran. Two years later he became Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport, and Parliamentary Secretary for Defence in 2013. Last year, the Turnbull government elevated him to Assistant Minister for Defence, before handing him the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio in last Saturday's cabinet reshuffle.
Other than his short involvement with regional transport, there is little in this surface history to suggest any connection with general aviation. To find that, you must go deeper into his career in politics.
His electorate of Gippsland includes Latrobe Regional Airport, home to GA manufacturer Mahindra Aerospace: GippsAero to the purists. GippsAero has been going through some tougher times of late, with flagging sales and delayed certification for the turbo-prop Airvan 10. Although it is a bit much to expect the minister to do anything about soft markets and stiff competition, having their local MP step into the job already infused with the challenges facing the company can only be good for GippsAero. The last thing any MP wants is job losses in their own backyard.
Chester is also a customer of general aviation, plying the sky between Canberra and Lakes Entrance in a chartered Piper Seneca regularly. Now the pilot knows he is ferrying the minister around, you can bet there will be some interesting conversations in the headphones high above the Monaro ... if there haven't been already. This is "coal-face" input at its best. Every time he straps in, Chester will be shown the inherent value of general aviation and there's no doubt the ramifications of an industry collapse will be apparent to him. It's a long drive even when you're chauffered.
Our new minister is also a member of the Parliamentary Friends of Aviation Group. This is a collection of federal MPs that gather to "provide members a great opportunity to stay informed about the issues the industry is facing." It is chaired by long-time aviation champion Senator David Fawcett. Now, you would hope the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport would be part of this group, but the fact that Chester was a member before getting the ministerial gig shows a pre-existing interest in the industry.
None of this suggests that general aviation will have an elevated level of influence on Darren Chester. As minister, he is also responsible for the airlines as well. He will find the best interests of RPT and GA colliding on his desk regularly, forcing him to try to strike a balance between the two.
So, what is going to change? Immediately, we can expect nothing to happen. There is a Federal Election looming in the second half of this year, and although Chester is probably a monty to keep Gippsland, it is always risky making changes that might prove unpopular enough to unseat MPs under siege in marginal electorates.
Over the next couple of weeks, we can expect an announcement that the new minister intends to keep going with the reforms instigated under Warren Truss, but no new policies or directives until after polling day.
Only then will the general aviation community be able to judge the impact of Darren Chester MP in his own right.