– Steve Hitchen
The cancelation of Avalon 2021 has had an air of inevitability about it for some weeks now. Despite all the optimism and energy still being pumped into the event, so very few people felt certain enough to make any concrete plans. The Delta strain has changed our world again and deprived Australia of its biggest aviation party, and the RAAF of a major event at which to show off in its centenary year. But there are two hold-outs: postponed Brisbane International Airshow in October and Wings over Illawarra (WOI) in November. At the risk of wasting more optimism on a lost cause, I have to dispense kudos to the WOI team, who have clung doggedly to their program whilst all other shows–both aviation and non-aviation–have fallen around them. If they can find a window in the wall of COVID restrictions currently besieging much of NSW, WOI might just be able to go ahead in November, which would place them well to become the RAAF's main centenary event by dint of being the last show standing. But the walls are high and solid, and it is no doubt taking a lot of energy for the WOI team to remain optimistic in the face of odds that are becoming more overwhelming every day. It was once said in an old Frank Capra movie that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for, and there is no doubt that WOI is worth fighting for.
Ballina-Byron is now a SFIS airport. To sum up in as few words as possible: you now must carry and use a radio and ATC will be passing you traffic information if you are within 15 nm of the airport and below 8500 feet AMSL. The exception is a 5 nm zone surrounding Lismore that has been excluded. SFIS looks too much like a Band-aid solution to me. Although not an airspace classification (BNA remains a CTAF in Class G), it does introduce new procedures that are mandatory, something that was considered abhorrent back in 2010 when CASA decided that GAAP procedures had to go. Many of us grey-haired aircraft drivers will remember the very short-lived Mandatory Broadcast Zones (MBZ) that accompanied the CTAF idea in the early 2000s. SFIS is a similar concept to that, except ATC will be responding to your inbound calls even if there's no traffic to pass. MBZs didn't have a long enough life to establish its own bona fides in Australia, which make SFIS a bit experimental in ways, and will have to prove itself a solution or you can almost bet it will eventually go the way of the MBZ. The second SFIS is scheduled for Mangalore in early September, but the grapevine says there are all sorts of problems because the proposed zone covers several sports aviation airfields, generally haunted by the types of aircraft that eschew the carriage of radio. Airservices has still a bit of work to do on that yet.
Sydney Seaplanes has introduced a COVID vaccine discount, offering 25% off their usual price for people who are vaccinated. The initiative is there to encourage people to get the jab; each one of which brings the country closer to the threshold the government is demanding in order to open the throttle on the economy. In that light, they are to be applauded. But the announcement has asked some very serious questions: without underpinning legislation, are operators who offer discounts empowered to demand proof of vaccination, and are they protected against discrimination claims from those they reject? The aviation industry and GA in particular is going to have to face down these sorts of questions sooner rather than later as society begins to polarise into the haves and the have-nots based on vaccination status. Setting aside for one minute the moral and ethical arguments of whether or not vaccination should be mandatory, if the government doesn't make it mandatory, it's hard to see where GA operators will get the head of power to demand a person's vaccination status and reject them on the basis of not being vaccinated. It's just one of many conundrums of the environment we are calling "COVID normal" that need to be resolved before the industry can get back to flying speed.
May your gauges always be in the green,