Steve Hitchen

Armidale Airport appears to be heading for the open market. Last month the Council began advertising for Expressions of Interest (EOI) to enter discussion for the commercial development of the airport, which includes the option of complete divestment of the asset to a private concern. The EOI was first opened in February and closes on 19 March. That's not very long for a group to put together a serious proposal that will have advantages for both the council and the airport. My fear is that an overseas developer will throw an obscene amount of money at the council to take ownership of the airport (which is the simplest option given the very short EOI time) and toss out everyone but the airlines to reserve the airport for training overseas students. That's probably the worst case scenario for general aviation, but with the NSW government promising around $8 million in upgrade grants, Armidale seems to me very vulnerable to this sort of outcome. As has been repeated at too many regional airports around Australia, the motivations of the local councils are in opposition to the needs of the airport's stakeholders and I suspect Armidale will add to the long list of airports effectively destroyed by private enterprises who are naturally focused on profit.

I was surprised to hear that AirVenture Australia has abandoned the Cessnock base after only one event there. At the time, Cessnock was spruiked as almost the perfect place given it is a larger town that has plenty of accommodation available and is close to both Sydney and Newcastle. Both of these things were thought to be shortcomings at the former home of Narromine.Then there was the undying love for AirVenture expressed by Cessnock council after the show last year. What happened to that? We have to presume that either the Cessnock event was not as successful as we were told, or that the requirements and motivations of AirVenture and Cessnock council started to diverge away from each other. AirVenture's new home is to be Parkes, only 55 nm south of Narromine. Parkes is a larger town that is bound to have more accommodation, but it's still a long way from a major capital city. Personally I hope AirVenture finds in Parkes a home where it can stay. Although some aviation gatherings, such as those run by the breed groups, regularly change location, a national fly-in can't be quite as nomadic. Can you imagine Oshkosh not being at Oshkosh?

Today is the day that Angel Flight goes up against CASA in the Federal Court in Victoria. Angel Flight is seeking to stay CASA's new regulations that restrict the experience of private pilots that can fly their missions. CASA's move is based on statistics showing that Angel Flight missions are four-to-five times more likely to have an accident or incident than a normal private flight. CASA is yet to show those statistics and won't make them public until they are presented to the senate in response to a question on notice from the last RRAT sessions. The new regs come into law before the senate sits again. Disallowance motions in parliament have not yet been voted on, which has left Angel Flight with no option but to go the Federal Court route. At the time of writing, the Federal Court has not returned a decision for public consumption, but watch this space very carefully indeed.

CASA has thrust human factors back into the spotlight with the release of their new educational pack. Human factors have a greater impact on aviation safety that most of us think. This week, the ATSB released the investigation report into a tragedy near Ballina that highlights the point. Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) is nearly always human-related, presuming that there is never a reason to go VFR in IMC. Even last weekend when I was coming back from a fly-away we were dogged with low cloud and a ridge of high ground on our track. I watched as each pilot considered the situation and evaluated the options. Some went one way, some went others. Not one of us decided to take on the cloud. We made decisions, re-evaluated mid-flight and always kept the back door open. Every one got home happy and laughing. What I also noted was the teamwork involved; pilots sharing thoughts and discussing options with each other. Good ideas turned into better ideas as we all made our plans together. This was also human factors at work; the desire not only to get home yourself, but also to see everyone else get home safely as well. Decision-making made easy. Admittedly, it helped that none of us were under pressure to get anywhere, which CASA continues to cite as one of the largest factors in poor decision-making.

May your gauges always be in the green,


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