– Steve Hitchen
COVID19 looks set to severely damage the aviation community in Australia by canceling nearly all air shows and exhibitions for at least the medium term. The Australian government is likely to implement a ban on non-essential public gatherings of more than 500 people. Some outlets are saying that this ban has already been implemented from Monday onward. This probably has to happen, but that makes it no less devastating. The Australian Grand Prix was canceled today costing absolutely millions of dollars, indicating that authorities are pretty serious about the issue of public gatherings. In Europe, AERO 2020 has fallen and eyes are being nervously cast towards Oshkosh in July. Even so, both Wings over Illawarra and Rotortech are adopting a stiff-upper-lip attitude and cautiously pressing on. Other imminent air displays like the Latrobe Valley Air Show on 5 April; Mudgee Wings, Wheels and Wine on 26 April and most Anzac Day fly-overs are most likely going to be canceled, although currently there is no official word on anything. Longer-term plans for the likes of Warbirds over Scone and Ausfly have more wax left on their candles of hope because the COVID19 pandemic still has a chance of abating before September-October. Right now I am feeling for all those people who have put their time into air shows and events whose efforts are likely to come to nothing.
The aviation community has been expected action over the stall/spin characteristics of the Bristell LSA, and this week it came through: CASA issued a notice of intention to ban stalls, both intentional and unintentional. The problem, our regulator says, is that there is evidence that the type doesn't recover well from a spin and that BRM Aero, who certified the aircraft to ASTM LSA standards, can't show satisfactory evidence that they were properly tested. In sum: CASA isn't taking this action because they believe the Bristell is unsafe, they're doing it because they believe it might be unsafe. In the world of regulation, there is probably no distinction between the two. "Safe" is safe; "might be" is unsafe. Most annoying is the need in the ban to not only inform your passenger that stalls in the aircraft are banned, but also get them to sign a piece of paper to say that they have been told. CASA is worried about the uninformed public again; as ever, their priority. But it makes no sense. CASA will issue the ban and pilots will comply with the ban. Regulation done; public protected. Getting the public to sign a piece of paper has no merit; it does not inform the public about anything given that most of them don't understand the concept of stalling anyway. We don't have to do this with any other regulation. But we can still have a laugh at this, particularly CASA's statement that they are banning unintentional stalls as well. Unintentional stalls have been banned for years under a regime called "airmanship" and another one called "good training".
Meanwhile at Camden, stones are being asked to shed blood or cease to be stones. Sydney Metro Airports, operators of both Bankstown and Camden, has presented Southern Cross Gliding Club with rent increases of between 225 and 550%. SMA runs both airports on behalf of First State Super, which is in the money-making industry and is not apologising for it. Hikes like this are to be expected; the owners want their returns. However, the aviation community just can't accommodate their needs. The pool of available money in general aviation has been slowly shrinking, which has caused many schools and small operators to close. That's important to us, but not to the leaseholders, who got into the aviation game expecting to make money out of it. Operators on leased airports have to live with monopoly conditions (they have nowhere else to go) so the position of power in negotiations is firmly in the airport operator's hands. That position is worse in Sydney because the same entity operates both airports. There is no competition; no controls to make the system fair. There are very few instances in aviation where a company has been handed unrealistic lease conditions and been able to relocate to greener pastures, as is their right under competition rules. Some have done it, but the fate of most has been closure. Business practice says that you can't demand more for your product than the market is willing to pay. That rule still applies in aviation, but instead of the customer buying someone else's product, they go out of business. The question is, does anyone with the power to do anything actually care?
May your gauges always be in the green,