– Steve Hitchen
Senator Susan McDonald may as well start each hearing into the GA industry with the song I Got You Babe. The Sonny and Cher anthem starts each morning in the movie Ground Hog Day (1993) in which a weatherman is condemned to repeat the same day over and over again. The evidence being given at the senate hearings is starting to sound like the same thing over and over again, but unlike Bill Murray's character, this is not such a bad thing to endure. The consistent message coming through is that CASA is creating regulation that is not fit for purpose, and that what drives that is a poor culture and disconnection from the industry it is supposed to be regulating. The repetition is so reinforcing that there can be no doubt what the industry feedback is trying to say. At the hearing this week, the evidence given reprised the same themes. This time, Phil Hurst from the Aerial Application Association of Australia (AAAA), one of the country's most respected aviation associations, mixed it up a bit more by telling senators part of the problem was that the same people who turned out unworkable regulations were being tasked to fix them. He likened it to being asked to mark your own homework. It was part of Hurst's push to demand culture change at CASA; a mandatory exercise if any reform at all is to be achieved. Because without that reform, CASA is always going to be marking their own homework given that the markers are all entrenched in the culture as well. Consequently the same thing keeps happening: unworkable regulation, which brings us neatly back to Ground Hog Day.
Following the on-schedule implementation of Surveillance Flight Information Service (SFIS) at Ballina last month, a similar service due to go live at Mangalore this week didn't happen at all. Instead, CASA launched a review of the airspace; not a common occurence for an airport that has no RPT and no tower. Right now I am asking myself what this review is going to reveal. It will show that Mangalore is a busy training airport in an area of heavy sport and recreational traffic situated at an aviation pinch-point that is difficult for through traffic to avoid if the weather over the ranges is unsuitable. Mountains to the east, prohibited airspace to the west; Mangalore is the only safe way through. Airservices thought SFIS was the answer, but that makes radio mandatory, which angried-up the glider pilots that use the region as their playground because the tugs will be required to monitor two frequencies at once. Spies keep telling me that consultation didn't go so well, which has delayed the SFIS date and prodded CASA into the review. But what can it change? One thing that would go a long way to easing congestion would be to remove or relocate the VOR. The Melbourne region used to have VORs at places like Yarrowee, Cowes and Wonthaggi where training schools could go to practice VOR procedures. They're gone now, leaving Mangalore or Avalon as the most practical options, and even they have issues with booking slots. Most schools prefer Mangalore, which draws more traffic to the pinch-point. Airservices, CASA and the industry as a whole needs to address this issue and find a solution that results in less demand on that VOR. And for that matter, they could have a look at the need for VOR training full stop.
At a time when unleaded fuel is being introduced to general aviation, helicopter operators in the NT are agitating to have lead levels in avgas increased! Giving evidence to the senate inquiry this week, operators blamed 100LL for a spate of engine cylinder failures and recommended the industry standard revert to the 100/130 avgas that was the staple fuel before 100LL was introduced. The contention put forward is that the chemical make-up of 100LL has changed, which was the catalyst for the problem. Operators say that since they were able to source drum supply of 100/130, cylinder failures have all but disappeared. Apparently, it's about aromatics. Fuel companies introduced an additive that suppressed the odour of the lead in the fuel, but in the tropical zone, it seems to be acting as an agent for failure in helicopters. Operators in the temperate zones that burn the same fuel are not reporting incidents. Consequently, the problem is isolated to only one small sector of the industry, but given the importance of piston helicopters in tourism, mustering and airwork in the NT, it's a thorny problem that needs to be sorted and sorted quickly. Such a negative impact on safety is far too great to ignore*.
May your gauges always be in the green,
*edited to remove ambiguous statement about smell.