– Steve Hitchen
An era ended this week with the final issue of Flightpath magazine being distributed. Australian Flying's sister title was in production for 31 years, rising as it did in concert with the burgeoning antique and warbird communities in this country. Flightpath tapped into a passion for old flying machines and a deep love of aviation history, and gave enthusiasts a conduit to connect themselves with the inner sanctum of a movement that most readers were relegated to worshipping from afar. It also found favour with the intimates of the antique and warbird communities, thanks to a reputation for accuracy and the integrity and street cred of editor Rob Fox and his cohort of expert contributors. Flightpath fell victim to an economic reality that hangs in Damoclean style over all aviation print titles. Since 2012, no less than seven have folded, three of them in 2019 alone. And so we must, reluctantly, farewell Flightpath, not because it wasn't a quality magazine, but because the numbers were simply against it as they were for all those other titles. To Foxy, MJC, James, Ron, Andy and all those others who made the magazine the best in its field, I say, well done. The aviation community is better off for your work.
Are we seeing the first burning signs of aviation's very own climate change? Regional Express this week announced they had been given permission to import pilots, instructors and engineers ... and this is an airline that has its own academy! Surely if you want more pilots, you simply expand your academy and make more places open to students? Well, no, the problem isn't a lack of students. Students get nowhere without instructors, and that is where the real shortage lies. New regulations introduced with Part 61 and the impact of FEE-HELP positions at schools have had a beaver-dam affect on the flow of new instructors into the industry. Before the government-funded short-cut to airlines was introduced, new CPLs got themselves an instructor's rating (IR) and spent time teaching in schools, building hours whilst they waited on their chance to impress the airline recruiters. That's not the way it happens any more; those CPLs are going straight to the airlines without passing through the GA stream first. Where Part 61 has queered everything for Australia is that it introduces significant new costs for instructors that don't earn a lot to start with. The new regs require flight examination for just about every teaching discipline, with the associated costs. An instructor may have an IR and an instrument rating, but Part 61 says they can't teach IFR unless they've passed an extra examination to get an approval to do so. The schools don't want to cover the cost of that and the instructors can't, so it doesn't happen. What good to an academy is an instructor who can't teach a CPL to fly on instruments? No instructors means no new airline pilots, so Rex's hand was really forced; they have little option but to bring in people who have been trained outside the crucible of the changing training climate in Australia. This is probably just the start.
When Essendon Airport P/L (EAPL) drew up their draft master plan in April this year, they were pretty sure that Melbourne Airport's third runway was going to be a parallel 09/27 built south of the current apron and terminal. All indications pointed to that. Now Melbourne Airport has opted to prioritise another north-south runway built west of the ATC tower, there is less potential for conflict with Essendon's 17/35 ... at least for the next 20 years. The third runway is expected to be approved, built and operational by 2025, but then Melbourne's operators will be turning their eyes toward the fourth runway, a parallel east-west which will complete the "hashtag" layout. Then the problems with 17/35 at Essendon will re-emerge. However, we're now talking about sometime around 2040, so let's not get het-up about it just yet. Right now the change is a bit inconvenient for EAPL, who based their master plan on the assumption that MEL would put in the east-west runway first. Back to the drawing board?
Is this the end of Mooney, again? Since being rebirthed in 2013, the iconic US manufacturer has struggled with new aircraft sales, which is almost a death knell for any aircraft builder. The shutdown this week is mysterious as it wasn't announced and the media found out through an answering machine message left on the company phone. It could be that the company is simply in abeyance whilst they work things out, or it could be the end. Or ... the Chinese owners could be about to transfer manufacture to China. Most interesting is that apparently there is no sign of the company applying for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, yet. This means there is still hope that the shutdown is not forever. But, since getting back into building new aeroplanes, Mooney has sold only 34 of them. That's not an encouraging basis for a future business plan, even if you are backed by a seemingly bottomless pit of Yen.
May your gauges always be in the green,