– Steve Hitchen
Finally the starter has released the horses. This year, the race is short; a frantic dash down the front straight from the gates to the finish line. There are only two horses realistically in the race, but it appears that punters aren't really keen on either of them winning. This is the story of the 2019 Australian Federal Election. With only 36 days to sway the minds of the electorate, politicians one and all (except for half of the senate) will want desperately to be our best friends. But as in nearly all Federal Elections, the ramiifications for aviation are not clear, and even murkier when it comes to general aviation. Both the redcoats and the bluecoats have been talking it up in parliament with the Civil Aviation Amendment making it through the lower house easily. However, neither side appears to have the courage to challenge the status quo and make change that has serious impact for the industry. The Coalition has made their feeling clear, and are keen to be seen as the champions of aviation, but although they've made changes in the industry such as commissioning the ASRR and establishing the General Aviation Advisory Group, any benefits don't seem to have been felt on the factory floor. The redcoats are currently even worse. The ALP has not responded to requests for a dissertation on GA, meaning at this time we have only existing material to guide us flying voters. The last ALP document written in 2018 talks about jobs for workers, foreign ownership, air transport agreements and a swag of other issues that have no or very little bearing on the health of the GA industry. What the ALP has made clear is that the 2009 White Paper will form the basis of their policy going forward. In the end, the aviation vote is unlikely to propel either horse to the finish line, leaving us to be swept up in whatever surge comes from the general electorate, but we are a minority that services a majority and we deserve consideration.
It seems the battle of the statisticians has come to pass. CASA has presented the senate with their data that they say supports their decision to impose restriction on community service flights (CSF), but Angel Flight has responded by using qualified statisticians as artillery to remove CASA from their high ground. According the Angel Flight's interpretation, the data CASA presented does not support the contention that CASA says it does. One of the sticking points seems to be the flight hours. CASA is using a base of 17,500 hours to derive that Angel Flight is more dangerous because four accidents over that time relates to a rate of 2.28 per 10,000 hours. However, Angel Flight is saying that over the sample period, they flew 46,000 flights. If CASA is correct, then each flight averaged only 23 minutes. Does that sound like an Angel Flight mission, given that distance to medical treatment is Angel Flight's raison d' etre? This is a very critical point. Say we give each CSF a duration of only one hour (savagely conservative), then the sample becomes 46,000 hours, or 0.86 incidents every 10,000, which, using CASA logic, actually makes CSF safer than private flights. Of course, that's simple mathematics. The stat gurus are saying there's all sorts of problems with the CASA data set and the conclusions drawn. If they're right, CASA's basis is hardly concrete, and certainly not stable enough to base regulation on. But just who's right and who's wrong? Looks like that might be up to the judge.
There is something very interesting happening in the training aircraft market at the moment. In recent months we have seen the rise of the Vulcanair V1.0 in response to a demand for a cheaper trainer, then Piper one-up that with the Piper 100, which is set to retail below the Vulcanair. Now, Tecnam has morphed the P2002JF into a two-seat FAR23 aeroplane that is both IFR and VFR. I doubt these three things happened in isolation, which means there is definitely a move towards new trainers. The model under siege here becomes the C172SP. Will Textron respond? Cessna enjoys one of the world's great brand loyalties, which has played no insignificant part in the Skyhawk holding its ground in the market, but if there is a groundswell demanding newer, cheaper trainers, brand loyalty may not be enough. Time and sales figures will tell, but it is hard to see how Textron can continue without bringing out a competitive machine to prevent erosion of their traditional market.
May your gauges always be in the green,