– Steve Hitchen
The senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) committee inquiry into general aviation now has less than eight weeks to table their final report. The terms of the inquiry demand the final report by the last parlimentary sitting day in November 2021. By the current calendar, that makes the report due no later than 30 November. But will we get it? The obligation to submit an interim report by December 2020 was fulfilled with a one-pager that effectively said that not enough work had been done to submit an interim report. COVID had killed meaningful progress. Ten months later there has been some progress, but not as much as was planned. Successful hearings were held in January and September via video link, but seven others planned for September didn't happen. With only 63 submissions, the senate committee must once again be evaluating whether or not enough work has been done. Right now, they're sticking to that 30 November date, but hedging their bets by saying they will leave open the option to extend. It revolves around how much work is considered enough. Personally, I don't believe the volume of work is as important as the quality of the material gathered. Consistent messages coming through the chatter are that GA is over-regulated and over-burdened by a safety authority that lacks the street cred to be trusted. That's a pretty harsh assessment, and not everyone will agree with it, but it's hard to deny that central theme. Whilst many other peripheral issues have been aired, most of them are derived in some way by the problems of regulation. Sort that out and I suspect many of GA's canker sores will also heal. If nothing else is said, it's worth tabling a report that just says that.
It was during one of the video link sessions that Senator Susan McDonald said she wasn't in favour of demanding a review of CASA, preferring to let the new DAS Pip Spence and Chairman Mark Binskin have their own impacts on the regulator first. It seems that, for the time being, McDonald's stance has proven insightful. This week it was announced that Rob Walker was to be crowned new head of Regulatory Oversight and that former Acting DAS Graeme Crawford would continue his career outside the organisation. Current boss of Regulatory Oversight Craig Martin will also exit the building after handing the keys to his office to Rob Walker at the end of this month. Is this just shifting deckchairs? I don't believe so. Walker is a reformist and a very capable one at that. Previous reformists at CASA have simply dashed themselves on the rocks of middle-management inertia, and I have to admit that I expected Walker would suffer a similar fate especially after he was overlooked for the DAS position. That the department most in need of change is being placed in the hands of someone with the motivation to change it is a good thing. It also signals to the aviation community that Spence is not afraid of reformists: good thing Number Two. But the future contains nothing in guarantees. Walker will be under immense pressure to straighten out regulatory oversight from the GA sector, under pressure from remaining inertia not to inflict change and under pressure from the government to keep aviation safety out of the headlines. But Walker has large shoulders, after all, he has been the person responsible for wrangling CASA's relationship with the aviation community for five years and still manages to crack a daily smile.
Remarkably, and completely unthinkable three months ago, it seems the world is coming to the doorstep of Wings over Illawarra. The show–should it go ahead–is becoming the major focus of the RAAF centenary celebrations and late last month Defence Force Recruiting was announced as a new partner. Even today NSW relaxed border restrictions for fully-vaccinated travelers and the hard-line Victorian government followed suit with new rules for NSW red zones that will make it almost practical for Victorians to get to WOI provided certain conditions are met. This is all looking really good, but the two largest hurdles still need to be cleared: will NSW Health sanction the show and will the COVID conditions placed on it be practical enough not to deter crowds? That is completely out of the hands of Bright Events, which organises WOI, so they've put their heads down and steamed on ahead with the show with a bit of a Damoclean sword hanging over them. Their effort deserves reward, and let's all home the sword doesn't come down on them like it has for most air shows and fly-ins this year. It's looking good, but COVID has the veto.
May your gauges always be in the green,