– Steve Hitchen
Yaffa Media, publisher of Australian Flying, lost its spiritual heart this week when David Yaffa died. David was the man who in 1969 saw potential in a small GA flying magazine that had been around for only a few years and brought it into his growing stable of titles. Under his patronage and that of the Yaffa family, Australian Flying grew and in 2013 celebrated 50 years of publication. The loss of David, naturally, is being felt very acutely in publishing industry, around Yaffa family homes and in the halls of the Surry Hills headquarters. It falls to me as the current editor to thank David for having the wisdom to support Australian Flying all those years, and offer the condolences of the general aviation industry to the Yaffa family and all the friends David gathered over his 84 years.
Our GA Representation Survey was closed this week as the data collector hit its limit of 100 responses. As promised, I circulated the results to interested parties and posted them on our website. It showed an overwhelming majority of respondents favoured the AGAA model over both RAAus, AOPA, TAAAF or indeed any other single body as the preferred representative group for GA. Like all damned lies, you could swirl these statistics around in a bowl until they congealed into any result you wanted them to, but looking at the raw data without prejudice, it seems to me that what the respondents are saying is that they believe the only way forward is via a collective effort of the representative groups. AGAA and its Wagga Wagga summit set the GA community buzzing with enthusiasm and optimism, so it's not surprising that those who did the survey are keen to see that continue and grow. If you have a look at what groups people nominated themselves as members of, it becomes clear that respondents who were members of either AOPA, RAAus or both did not necessarily vote with their loyalties; some of them voted for AGAA. This also gelled with comments submitted that indicated a general dissatisfaction with direction and leadership from the boards. Now, I am not silly enough to boldly state that this poll is definitive. It is 100 people who cared enough to take the survey, and their passion for aviation politics showed through in the comments. But I have intel that was not gathered via this survey; the people who ring and talk to me almost every day. What they have been saying for months was backed up in the poll results.
The other thing we asked about was our own performance in dealing with the political matters. I was pleased that the results showed clearly that the respondents thought we had the coverage right, and that they thought it was balanced. It's something I have constantly had in my mind since taking over as editor in 2012: balance. But there were some who were not happy, and those people didn't hold back in letting me know what they thought. It's the same old, same old: the happy people are contented, the unhappy people are angry. But again, that comes down to a matter of balance, and if I can continue to achieve that I will be doing alright.
We, especially marketing people, are very quick to brand a new idea as a "game-changer" nowadays. So few new things ever really change any games, but like the iPad and nose-wheels on aeroplanes, every now and then something does actually alter an industry irreversibly. There is something rising in the USA at the moment that could change GA forever: the idea that an LSA could have a max take-off weight of 1632 kg. This means something as large and as powerful as a Cirrus SR22 could be flown legally without ever having been type-certified by a national aviation authority like CASA or the FAA. The cost of introducing new aeroplanes would plummet, because manufacturers need only issue a statement of compliance to the ATSM LSA standard rather than go through the full certification process. This would catalyse a flock of new aeroplanes hitting the market and at last we might be able to get the average age of the GA fleet down below 30-40 years. But wait, there's a huge catch: currently the ATSM standards for LSAs demand only two seats, fixed gear and, in the US, they are restricted to a max speed of 120 knots. Given that an aircraft with an MTOW of 1632 kg that can carry only two and is restricted to that speed has very little practical value, it is clear the the definition of LSA would have to change to match the practicalities of such an aeroplane. And that is a game changer! Where it gets very interesting for Australia is what CASA is likely to do if this gets up. Will they allow such a large and powerful aeroplane to fly in this country without a type certificate? Can you imagine the US GA industry pumping out these magnificent new aeroplanes and our regulator banning them from flying in Australia because they aren't type-certified and don't match the current LSA rules? Last week the FAA lit the fire by confirming they were contemplating the idea, then doused it by reminding people they are only starting the discussion process at this stage, and any rule changes are at least a 2020-21 concern. Still, we can dream, can't we?
AOPA has enticed Senator Glenn Sterle, who sits on both Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport (RRAT) senate committees, to lobby the senate into allowing an inquiry into self-administration. According to AOPA CEO Ben Morgan, the intent is to force CASA to "level the playing field" by extending the driver's licence medical to GA just as they have to RAAus. After speaking with Senator Sterle during the week, I came away with the impression that he wants to look into the entire self-administration thing, not just the medical side of it. That could mean not only RAAus, but also other ASAOs like the GFA, SAAA and AWAL could become targets of the senate, even though that was not the intent. The senator has said that he will need to speak with both sides of parliament in order to get this up, which he was confident he could do. Conversely, other influences in general aviation are confident they can head it off at the pass. Many times I've said in the past that another aviation inquiry is about as welcome as a malignant TEMPO over your home airport at 5.00 pm on a Sunday, and this one may suffer from the effects of "inquiry fatigue". Senator Sterle has the clout to get this up, but his largest hurdle might be getting skittish politicians to agree to an aviation inquiry whilst the nation is on final approach to a federal election.
Congratulations to GippsAero on the first sale of an Airvan 10. The first one will migrate to Botswana, where it's future will involve lots of scenic and charter flights. Having flown an Airvan 10, I know how much of a gun aeroplane it is, and I suspect there will be more orders to follow once it has established its reputation for ease of operation and economy in action. It's sister aircraft will include Airvan 8s, C206s and Grand Caravans; an ideal environment to judge the 10 against the alternatives.
May your gauges always be in the green,