– Steve Hitchen
I knew several years ago that I would one day write an obituary for Chuck Yeager. I also knew it would be one of the most difficult things I would ever have to write. Yeager was a person who I had immense respect for, but found it very hard to actually like. To like someone you must have some level of understanding of them. Yeager was a supremely-confident, AAA+-type personality who was comfortable in the knowledge that he had never been proven fallible in his field; something I struggled to understand and be comfortable with myself. His personality was not one designed to make friends easily, characterised with a brutal honesty that could be considered rude and arrogant. Dumping on other aviation heroes like Armstrong and Crossfield is never popular, and I won't repeat here his opinions of Buzz Aldrin, even though Yeager would have been quite happy for me to do so. The legacy he leaves, one he guarded fiercely, is of a truly great aviator. A mega-celebrity after becoming the first person to break the sound barrier, he was nevertheless a very, very good pilot. Some might say the best there ever was. He was dedicated to the USAF perhaps beyond reason. He flew the Bell X-1 because it was his duty, he stayed in the USAF when commercial manufacturers were waving big dollars in his face and even after retirement became a USAF consultant for $1 per year ... and all the aeroplanes he wanted! It has to be remembered that Yeager also set up his own foundation for children and regularly flew sick kids in the EAA's Fokker Trimotor. That too is part of his legacy. Yes, other people saw Yeager different from how Yeager saw himself, but I suspect he would have been comfortable with that too.
Yesterday the senate RRAT committee tabled its interim report on the GA industry inquiry: a one-page letter to the senate president that basically said we are reporting that we have nothing to report. That's not an admission that they found nothing to say, but rather that the extraordinary year of 2020 prevented any real inquiry from going ahead. With only one public hearing completed–and that was largely by video link–the committee hadn't been able to drill far enough down into the issues plaguing the industry to produce conclusions of much integrity. That's a good thing for GA because it shows that the RRAT committee is determined to do a good job of this rather than make it another lip-service inquiry. The final report is not due until November, which means the committee has to squeeze nearly two years worth of work into 11 months. In a hopefully COVID-canceled 2021, the RRAT and the entire GA industry need to commit to putting their heads down and making sure the final report tabled in November 2021 is a circuit-breaker for GA.
AOPA Australia appears to have life it yet despite the analysis of some industry commentators that may have been coloured with wishful thinking. Delays to the financial report and the AGM fueled all sorts of conspiracy theories, most of which resulted in AOPA being insolvent. What people seemed to be forgetting is the impact of COVID-19 and the difficulty in getting auditors to visit remote locations. In a year when everybody needed to be cut some slack, none was being extended to AOPA. The financials show that AOPA made another operating loss for 2019 and a down-turn in memberships, but with an improved cash position, no-one's calling in the administrators just yet. Where the news is not so rosy is that AOPA needed to reverse the operating loss in 2020, a near impossibility in an industry heavily burdened by coronavirus. The state of the association really won't be known until May 2021, when the financial reality of 2020 will be laid bare.
One question that the aviation community has never been able to get a satisfactory answer to is "is CASA first and foremost an aviation organisation or just a bureaucracy?" In name it is supposed to be an authority, but the expertise within the organisation is lacking that much that it really can't justify that title anymore. We may be given a clue in the coming weeks when the new Director of Aviation Safety (DAS) is announced; the type of person selected should be giveaway what the government believes CASA should be. If you appoint an aviator you get an aviation organisation; if you appoint a bureaucrat you get a bureaucracy. In the past 10 years we've have a little bit of both. The board will select someone whose strengths align with the direction the government wants CASA to go. The last thing the aviation industry needs right now is the appointment of someone who has succeeded in generating animosity with the GA community and failed to build trust and integrity. Regardless of whether CASA is an aviation organisation or a bureaucracy, if it ever wants to be an authority it needs the stakeholders' buy-in moreso than just a government pronouncement.
Our re-scheduled Facebook seminar went off last night without the gremlins that infected the original attempt. We had a good 90 mins going over the options for fresh PPLs to kick off their aviation careers. Thanks to guest speakers David Pilkington, David Geers, Chris Wakefield and Charles Gunter who provided some great insights to their respective areas of expertise. We are also very grateful to Garmin Australia for their support. If you missed it, you can watch a replay of the seminar on the Australian Flying Facebook page.
And that is LMH done for 2020. It has been a tough–almost depressing–year that challenged everyone's positivity and it was not easy to find good things to write about. However, the GA community has fought its way through to this point and we can only hope our economic recovery is in lock-step with the improvement predicted for the economy overall. There are some encouraging signs that 2021 could be a watershed year for GA, but there are so many variables that impact the industry right now that it's impossible to say with any certainty if we can make any great strides. LMH will be back on board late January next year, at which time we're going back to the weekly format rather than the fortnightly editions forced on us by COVID measures. Thanks for being with us right throughout the year.
May your gauges always be in the green,