– Steve Hitchen
If my mum was here now, she would get RAAus, SAAA, APF, OzRunways, AOPA and AvPlan and bang their heads together! This week in general aviation has been one of the most dire, disappointing and disastrous imaginable. The finger-pointing, accusing and (yes) direct lying that has been going on about the OzRunways sponsorship deal for AirVenture Australia has put the event in jeopardy. Contradiction has followed contradiction, burying the truth deep beneath a pile of vested interest and political posturing. And once again, GA loses; fractured with rivalry and opinion as various different people claim to represent the best interests of the aviation community. So who is the guilty party, the great evil one? It's impossible to tell; guilt can be determined only once true facts are known, and at the moment, despite many claims to the contrary, it seems no-one actually has the true facts in hand. So here's what is known: OzRunways took out major sponsorship that did not include exclusivity. When the AirVenture organisers needed a bit more cash, OzRunways upped their investment, which triggered the exclusivity deal. Consequently, AvPlan was told they couldn't go, and several other companies had conditions placed on them attending, including stalwart Paul Bennet Airshows, which is sponsored by AvPlan. Beyond that, the trail of facts disappears into a dark and whispering fen* that is almost impossible to navigate. The path has led to accusations of smear campaigns, conspiracy theories that run right to the minister's office, power struggles and lawyers being briefed. Now OzRunways has pulled out their major investment, blaming a "membership organisation" that it says leaked the commercial agreement.
So are we going to see a unified air show and exhibition at Narromine in October? With only a couple of months to go, can the aviation community possibly heal itself in time? If we want an AirVenture, the healing has to happen. The industry has to put this behind itself and get on with putting together an air show, exhibition and fly-in that is so crucial to the ongoing viablility of general, sport and recreational aviation in Australia. But most importantly, it has to be an event for every one of us; every company, every pilot, every organisation ... because without any one, we don't have complete support, and aviation in Australia needs that complete support today, tomorrow, the rest of the year and well into the foreseeable future. We, the eclectic and enthusiastic keepers of the aviation future, have to recognise some serious mistakes and step up the make sure AirVenture Australia 2017 happens and is successful. Ask yourself this: who wins if AirVenture doesn't go ahead? Then ask: who loses if AirVenture doesn't go ahead? The answer to the first question is "no-one" and the answer to the second is "everybody in aviation". Make no mistake, we have reached a breaking point, and if we can't find a way forward together then how can we ever convince Canberra that our industry, our community, is worth saving.
CASA's discussion paper on drone regulation is now ready for industry comments. This may be just a fringe issue to many of us who are still struggling with AirVenture, Part 61, rising rents, SIDs and every other spear in the side that is depleting our lifeblood at the moment, but you can bet it's very important to the drone community, which I have no doubt will be pouring feedback into CASA. If the general aviation community takes a stand-off approach to this, then the feedback from the drone people is all they will have. It's probably a critical enough issue for general aviation to take notice and speak up, or we certainly won't be listened to on this topic in the future.
To finish on a happy note, I was stoked to see that Warbirds over Scone is back on the calendar! This was for several years a well-attended and well-run air show in a great location. It's bound to be another stonker of an event, so put it in your diary, get a plane organised and make sure you're there in the crowd when Scone goes off in March next year.
*thanks to Glenn Richards for this line. Great lyrics.
May your gauges always be in the green,