– Steve Hitchen
Visual flight into instrument weather has been resulting in tragedy after tragedy for as long as there have been aeroplanes and bad weather. And there will be a lot more of it given that it is often the result of a poor decision and pilots are probably going to continue to make poor decisions. Our regulators have even given up when it comes to taking preventative measures that actually work. This has never been illustrated better than this week's report into the Mount Gambier Angel Flight accident, where none of the ATSB recommendations address the VFR-into-IMC aspect and concentrate on management issues. As a result, even if all the recommendations were adopted fully, the impact on the next possible VFR-into-IMC will be negligible. Both the ATSB and CASA have plans to ramp-up education programs, but that's a nebulous solution to a clear and present danger. Every VFR pilot, whether wilfully stupid, neglectful or unlucky, is likely to stumble into IMC at some time in their career. It's what happens next that causes the accident. Unprepared and unarmed, the first action is too often panic, followed up by the next step, which is usually to wish they weren't there. The two hours of IF demanded during their ab-initio training is so obsolete and forgotten that it now has the value and currency of a brass razoo. If we demanded more IF hours and included IF currency in flight reviews, we might equip VFR pilots with enough skill to save their lives the day they do stumble into cloud. It's true that there is nothing we can do if a VFR pilot chooses to waltz into low murk, but in most cases they don't even have the ability to get themselves out if they do recognise their error. As it's obvious that all other methods of mitigation have failed, surely it's time to revisit what we teach pilots in the first place.
The ATSB also recommended that Angel Flight consider using RPT as a primary option. This really was a fairly soft recommendation, but it came with the damning statement about the safety of private operations. There were no limiters on that recommendation, so it didn't say "use RPT rather than VFR" or "use RPT unless the pilot has an instrument rating". It stated boldly that RPT is safer than any PPL flying any aeroplane under any conditions. I have to call them out on this. There are CPLs floating around Australia that I wouldn't trust to fly a kite, and PPLs that will run rings around the average CPL in terms of knowledge and skill. To me it shows that perhaps CASA and the ATSB have little understanding of what it means to be a private pilot. They have both used the damned lies they call statistics to prove that private operations are more dangerous, but statistics don't fly aeroplanes, people do. There are right ways and wrong ways to fly aeroplanes, and each one of us regardless of status should be striving to fly the aeroplane the right way. If we do that, there is a fair argument to say that there is no difference in safety between a CPL flying a Bonanza VFR and a good PPL flying a Bonanza VFR. It is one of the more curious facts of life that we can use correct analytical techniques and proper paths of reasoning and logic to arrive at the wrong answer (refer the last Federal Election predictions) and I believe that's what's happened in this case. Regardless of the number crunching, it doesn't follow that being a pilot is unsafe just because they are a PPL, and that's what the ATSB has declared in this case. If the ATSB honestly believes this, shouldn't they be recommending that private operations be disallowed because they are dangerous?
Tyabb's popular biennial air show was canceled this week as a result of further local council demands. The council clearly has imposed unreasonable new demands, taking into account that nothing has changed since the air show they approved in 2018. The new flaming hurdles they want Peninsula Aero Club (PAC) to leap over have impeded the air show rather than enabled it. That is going to cost benefitting charities a lot of money, but the last thing the local council wants is to be blamed, so they point the finger at the aero club. Do they honestly expect people to believe that PAC canceled the air show out of spite? Remember, PAC has run many successful air shows at Tyabb and has developed a very slick and efficient way of doing it. If the new demands were reasonable and workable, the PAC team would have found a route through and the air show would be going ahead. This incident also leaves a very bitter taste in the mouths of PAC and all those who use the airport, because it places doubt on whether or not the council really intends to deal with the airport in good faith and significantly shortens the odds that the issue will have to be dealt with in the courts.
And just to show you that council's can be defeated by joint action, Central Coast Aero Club at Warnervale this week claimed victory in its battle with Central Coast Shire. The shire was trying to revegetate part of the runway, refused to permit clearing or trimming of trees and asking CCAC to "talk to the hand" when it came to renegotiating the usage agreement. In a council meeting this week, many supporters fronted up to put the airport's case and try to force the council to back down. It included a silent standing protest that clearly unnerved councillors and several speakers who told the story of Warnervale and its value to the community. In the end, the council voted to explore the vegetation issue more (using a lot of taxpayers money), but voted overwhelmingly in favour of fast-tracking the airport users agreement for CCAC and to try to get the minister to change the Warnervale Airport Restrictions Act to alleviate the need for a movement cap. This is a great win for CCAC, the local people and for general aviation as a whole. To everyone who spoke at the meeting in favour of the airport, I say well done.
May your gauges always be in the green,