• New RAAus CEO Maxine Milera at the organisation's Fyshwick office. (Steve Hitchen)
    New RAAus CEO Maxine Milera at the organisation's Fyshwick office. (Steve Hitchen)

Maxine Milera's entire aviation career has been building up to this day. After 18 years in various backroom roles at Recreational Aviation Australia, Milera has moved into the pinnacle job: CEO.

The RAAus board appointed Milera after previous CEO Matt Bouttell returned to CASA earlier this year. Although the job was advertised around the industry, it seems the best person for the job was right under their noses. 

But the CEO's role is not the same as it was under Bouttell; RAAus has divided responsibilities in order to split the workload.

"We’ve restructured the organisation and removed the accountable manager away from the CEO role; that’s now with a new role, Chief of Aviation, which is Cody Calder," Milera told Australian Flying during a sit-down chat.

"Even though we’ve split the CEO role from what it has traditionally been, we still work closely together. Cody still reports to me as CEO, but he also reports to the board as the accountable manager. Plus, he reports to CASA.

"I run the business side and Cody looks after the aviation side.

"We have set management up in silos: there is the aviation side and the business side, then the marketing side, which still falls under business, but we’ve got it separate."

Milera's CV at RAAus reads like she's been shaped for the top job her whole career. After beginning in the technical department, she progressed through membership, finance, administration and HR before taking her place in the CEO's office. It has been a career fueled by a passion for aviation.

"I applied for a job 18 years ago, and it has grown from there," she recalled. "I started just at the end of the Australian Ultralight Federation era and just as RAAus started; they were just transitioning.

"I love all kinds of aviation. I love going to air shows and fly-ins, I love meeting people and talking about aviation. I am just so passionate about it and I love this organisation."

But if passion for aviation was the only criterion then we'd all be CEOs. It takes a lot more that a love of flying to run and grow a business. Milera has few doubts about her ability to get the job done.

"I know the ins and outs of this organisation, and I hope I bring the female touch and passion into RAAus. The CEO position was not divided because I don’t have the skills to do the job, it was decided to divide the role even while Matt Bouttell was still here.

"The CEO role is just so big that the board decided to split it to grow the organisation. My job is to bring on more members whereas Cody is purely aviation."

Many new CEOs are immediately inflicted with "new broom" syndrome; a desire to reshape organisations in their own image. Milera shows no symptoms of that malady, instead expressing a determination to recover a lost spirit.

"Because I’ve been here for such a long time and I’ve seen the changes to the organisation, I’m hoping to bring back the community spirit," she said.

"I think we’ve lost that a little bit, and with COVID lockdowns and not being able to get out and meet fellow aviators, I think we lost that community spirit.

"That’s why Fly’n for Fun is important. I don’t want it to grow into a massive air show; I want to keep it for our community and our aviators. That’s what I want to see."

There are people within the RAAus database that will be happy to hear that; one of the most strident complaints about the organisation today is that CASR Part 149 has turned RAAus into a CASA clone rather than just an administrator.

"Part 149 has changed the organisation," Milera admits, "but I believe it has changed for the better. A lot of people won’t agree with me on that. A lot of the older members believe we are becoming more like CASA.

"We’ve always had to abide by rules and regulations, but the members probably believe they got away with a little bit more in the earlier years.

"Part 149 makes us accountable; makes us stand up and say ‘this is the way we approach safety in aviation.’ We are protecting the organisations and our members.

"Our rules and regulations haven’t changed. We’ve have always been governed by what CASA says. It may have seemed in the earlier years that the organisations may have been more lenient, but the rules are no different today than they were then."

And that brings up the question of how RAAus deals with two masters: CASA and the membership base. Often, the demands of the two are not compatible, leaving the association with having to please both. Milera doesn't need reminding that the members are the reason the organisation exists in the first place.

"We’re not here to pounce on our members; we’re here to support them," she stressed. "We’re not going to ground them, we’ll work with them to improve their skills and educate them.

"It’s a bit of a juggling act: we’ve got our members who just want to go flying–and we get that–but we have our responsibilities and requirements, and we have to work with both. We’re in the middle trying to hold it all together ...

"We’d like the members to understand that we’re here for them. They can pick up the phone and we will be on the other end … and don’t trust social media! Sometimes the answers we see on social media pages aren’t correct. It’s better they pick up the phone and ask our team the question. And if we don’t know the answer, we’ll find out for them."

Two RAAus projects that membership demands have driven are the increased MTOW to 760 kg and access for RPC holders to controlled airspace. CASA has approved the former, which has resulted in RAAus creating Group G, but CTA access is still mired among regulatory change at CASA.

"We’ve been waiting for the MTOW increase since I started with RAAus 18 years ago, so I think we prioritised that over CTA because we’d been waiting for the longest time," Milera explained.

But even after CASA approval, Group G has yet to be fully implemented, having been delayed from the original start date in March this year.

"Group G was delayed because we weren’t ready. Cody and I sat down and discussed it and we wanted to make sure everything was properly prepared before we went live. We’re just being smart; we don’t want to present it to the membership before it is ready. It’s just tidying up.

"I believe that the MTOW increase is RAAus growing and developing. We’re looking at all aspects of aviation, because if we don’t grow we’ll stagnate and we won’t improve. We’ve got members who have been waiting for this weight increase for 18 years. It’s not only us wanting the increase, our members asking for it."

And access to CTA?

"We have been told that access to controlled airspace is tied to CASR Part 103, so you’ll have to speak with CASA about that one!"

At the time Australian Flying spoke with Milera, she and the organisation were still basking in the success of Fly'n for Fun at Parkes, a fly-in event held with the support of AMDA Foundation and the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS). According to Milera, Fly'n for Fun is key to her ambitions of recovering the community spirit of recreational aviation.

"Fly’n for Fun is necessary for members to keep the community together," she believes. "Sitting around the campfire at Parkes I saw we had people from 14 years old right up to a 90-year-old. The young ones were sitting there listening to the older generation discuss what they used to do.

"That’s developing an understanding in the younger people of ‘wow, that’s what I could do. I could be here in 20 years’ time telling my own children about flying.’ So Fly’n for Fun is necessary to take RAAus back to the grass roots where it started.

"I don’t want a large air show. There’s nothing wrong with them – don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to Avalon and the ANZAC weekend show had about 13,000 people there. Many of them were public, and we had the public at Fly’n for Fun on both days and to watch Paul Bennet on the Sunday.

"If you get the public, you get them interested, but I don’t want a big air show, I just want to support the community and our members. Maybe if we doubled the attendance from this year that would be a nice size, but we don’t want to go too big. We’re not aiming for Oshkosh!"

Milera's passion for aviation is obvious in the way she talks about RAAus and its role in general aviation as the grass-roots, entry-level of GA. Which prompts the question asked of almost every CEO of every aviation body the moment they take the chair: are you a pilot yourself?

"Lee Ungermann was teaching me to fly in his Lightwing at Polo Flat," she responds, "but with commitments with work and family it has fallen by the wayside [sound familiar, anyone?].

"Jill Bailey has offered to teach me to fly, but I’d have to start again, and now I’m CEO I’m not sure I’m going to have the time.

"Maybe when I retire!"

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