– Steve Hitchen
The RRAT committee made up a fair bit of ground in the GA inquiry this week with another public hearing, exploring some meaty material and posing some very good questions. The senators took on the Angel Flight restrictions, the loss of infrastructure at Moorabbin, the drain of instructors from GA to the airlines, maintenance training woes and several other issues. But there was a discernible difference with this hearing: Senators Susan McDonald and Glenn Sterle displayed an understanding of the depth of the decay of general aviation and the length of the slippery slide the industry has been on. McDonald went so far as to describe 2021 as a line-in-the-sand year for the GA community. I am not suggesting they haven't understood before this, but this was the first time they displayed the understanding and asked some very good questions of exactly the right people. Case in point: McDonald almost lost it with CASA when they couldn't tell the committee the value of the court costs CASA had been awarded in the Angel Flight case. McDonald clearly didn't believe him and let frustration boil over, and Sterle piled on as well. I got the feeling the senators were mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore. The committee got a first-hand experience of the obfuscation GA has been battling for a quarter of a century, turning sympathy into empathy. There are no more hearings scheduled, but if the senators haven't got the point by now, they were never going to.
AFTIA's Maddy Johnson testified before the hearing and explored the interesting idea of apprenticeships for CPL candidates. The idea, as I understand it, is that CPLs training through the tertiary system would spend the last 6-12 months working with a GA company under supervision before their CPL qualification is awarded. Merit aside, the idea was floated as potential weapon against a clear and present danger: Australia is running out of pilots and we can't train new ones fast enough. As the rest of the world re-booted their travel industries ahead of us, Australian pilots whose careers were in a dormant state left for overseas airlines and others opted for retirement. To fill the vacancies, the airlines have plundered GA, taking not only Grade 1 instructors, but Grade 2s as well. But here's the thing: only senior instructors can teach others to be instructors and with those senior instructors now at the airlines, GA's ability to renew the instructor stocks has been weakened severely. Johnson likened GA to an estuary that had been over-fished. The apprenticeship idea could build a pool of experienced CPLs working in the GA community that the airline recruiters could plunder to their heart's content. Simples? No, but then it never is. GA operators will need to convert some ops from single-pilot to dual-pilot where the apprentice is used, but that cuts a chunk of revenue-earning capacity out of the aircraft's useful load. So in some areas it will work, in others no. Apprentices could find themselves logging a lot of hours washing Cessnas, which is not the sort of experience the airlines are after. What GA really needs are career instructors who have no interest in going Boeing, but that would mean a complete re-jig of the whole instructor system. Perhaps it is time.
Great news this week surrounding manufacturing. Amphibian Aerospace announced they were setting up in Darwin after the Warnervale project crashed and burned. This is a NSW company that owns the type cert for the G-111 Albatross and will be re-engining the classic amphibian with P&WC turbines, replacing the Wright radials they originally carried. Amphibian is taking just the first step on road that has proven rocky in Australia. Over the past 50 years, GA manufacturing companies have risen and fallen in this country like corks in Bass Strait, denied a healthy home market, confounded by brand loyalty towards US manufacturers and saddled with a regulator that is generally armed with more red crosses than green ticks. Although the NT government is on board in principle, Amphibian is going to need a lot more help and incentive exporting to the world from Australian shores. But it is heartening to see a company with ambitious plans believing they can make a fist of it despite the thread of heartbreak the weaves through the history of aircraft manufacture in Australia. Since Mahindra swamped GippsAero with over-management, many in the GA industry considered that no-one would ever have a serious shot at building type-certified aeroplanes in Australia again, so the Amphibian initiative is being watched with great interest.
If a young CPL approached me now asking what skills they should learn to make them a valuable part of aviation in the future, I wouldn't hesitate to tell them to look towards urban mobility. Urban mobility is technology that will change aviation right across the world, and a young person would do well to fashion their skill set towards the new aviation. Nautilus Aviation announced this week that they were taking on 10 new Eve e-VTOLs and Sydney Seaplanes signed a deal for 50, so urban mobility is coming to Australia and if it runs to schedule it will be here in 2026. At the same time, the Victorian and Federal governments announced a deal to develop e-VTOLs and freight drones in Australia. With $35.7 million on the line for funding, it is apparent the government understands the potential of e-VTOLs and is prepared to pay for its ticket on the urban mobility bandwagon. If I was starting out as a CPL now, I'd look to a future flying e-VTOLs.
There are now only 15 days until Christmas, which means you still have time to get in on our 2021 Christmas subscription deal, which offers a whacking 40% off the cover price of six print issues of Australian Flying. Get in now because this offer will self-cancel in 16 days time. Go to the Great Magazines website and save yourself some hard-earned.
And that is 2021 done. This is the final Last Minute Hitch for the year. We've covered some complex topics since January with the usual GA comings and goings confused by the ever-present COVID cloud cover. My ramblings and episodes of dis-jointed logic attracted feeback from time-to-time, which is very valuable because it always shines new light on the subjects and enables me to see things that weren't obvious at first glance. For all those that put in their two-cents, it was worth at least a dollar to me. We'll be back in mid January, but I will continue to post news on the Australian Flying website right throughout the break and put links on our Facebook page. Thanks for listening throughout the year.
May your gauges always be in the green,