– Steve Hitchen
After the coroner's findings into the Lockhart River C404 crash, the pressure will be on CASA to mandate TAWS for passenger-carrying aircraft with more than six seats. They resisted doing so after the tragic 2005 Metro crash when 15 people were killed, but now 20 people have died in 18 years trying to get into that airport, CASA will likely be forced to act. But the types of aeroplanes in the frame here are not PC-12s or King Air 360s–their avionics kits are usually state-of-the-art coming out of the box–but veteran C400 series, Chieftains, Navajos, Queen Airs and their peers. The panels of many of these types are now a patchwork of old and new; traditional clocks complemented with the odd GNS 430. Getting TAWS into them is not going to be a simple task in most cases. And many of them now are employed running between benign regional airports, although the accidents at Benalla and Mount Hotham should not be ignored. In implementing a mandate, CASA will need to push against ICAO and the practices of most other countries in the world except Canada, so this is not a fait accompli.
VET funding for flight training needs to undergo serious scrutiny in the short term future to decide whether it really is fit for purpose. The more I dig around the issue the more I am convinced that it's not. This is the scenario where students enrol for a diploma or certificate with a TAFE college, which then farms out the training to a flying school that is a registered training organisation (RTO). Alternatively, students can enrol directly with the RTO if that RTO offers certificates courses. There are so many problems with this structure that it's hard to go through them all, but the lack of ability to conduct remedial training is one that impacts the quality of the finished product. Funding, it would seem, doesn't cover the extent of remedial training needed, which puts at risk students' ability to consolidate before going on to the next phase. In most cases, that's a recipe for failure. The proof lies in the laments of airline recruiters who bemoan the lack of basic flying skills that have traditionally been relied upon from someone holding a CPL. I am convinced that the problem lies not with the flying schools, but with the way funding is allocated and the determination that only courses that end with a recognised tertiary qualification can be funded. Shutting out the Part 141 schools that don't offer certificate or diploma courses is ignoring the value of the 200-hour syllabus and the qualification that it brings: a CASA CPL and 50 more hours experience. It's time for some serious scrutiny.
I was disappointed to read the AOPA letter to members, because it shows they are sticking to the strategy of rebuilding their membership base by showing how good they are at shouting at the devil. Advocacy and activism are needed from AOPA Australia, but it can't be the only string to their bow or they will recruit only those people who engage with aviation at that level. AOPA's message is that membership has dropped because they didn't pursue renewals during COVID because members were "doing it hard". Presumably those hardships were shared with the members of the AWPA, but that organisation didn't experience a membership plunge the way that AOPA did. Their members hung tough. It's easier to keep a customer than to get one back, so perhaps AOPA should have sent out renewals; the response might have surprised them. I think it's time the AOPA board re-focused on why people join associations and what they value in their membership, then create a forward-looking strategy that contains much more than just advocacy.
May your gauges always be in the green,