– Steve Hitchen
News this week out of Canada is that governments are supporting the aviation industry and investing in new technologies to secure the future of the sector. Meanwhile in Australia we're promising millions to build carparks and not building them anyway. Such a contrast. I was one of–I suspect–many people who thought after the collapse of the automotive industry in Australia that governments would start to actively look for replacement industries to provide an outlet for the workforce. It made sense in logical terms, but clearly not political ones. Sitting down at Latrobe Valley Regional Airport is a company with the skills, enthusiasm and credibility to spawn a high-tech aviation industryy. But, alas, GippsAero is currently held captive by an owner that recently won an Olympic gold medal in long-distance apathy. It really is there for the taking and would be a vibrant, going concern again if not for the frustrating obstinance of Mahindra. If the Australian Federal Government had a sudden attack of the Canadas and funded the buy-out of GippsAero with a mandate to develop new aviation capability, Australia might be able to take advantage of the commercial opportunities promised by emerging technology. The truth is that these new technologies are becoming mandatory if the aviation industry is to hit carbon emission targets, so the market will be very close to captive. Other than the onset of war, I do wonder if there has ever been a time when Australia stood to gain so much from a vibrant aviation industry. But then again, those carparks are not going to build themselves; and by all reports neither is anyone else.
Alice Springs is getting fired up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first flight into the town. When this arrived in my inbox, it piqued my interest straight away because that flight had been done by one of my personal aviation heroes: Frank Briggs. Briggs is the great forgotten aviation pioneer of Australia despite having contributed more to our industry and regional communities than any other person, having done the first Melbourne-Perth and Melbourne-Brisbane flights as well as the Alice excursion. He and boss CJ de Garis covered most of the Riverina district by air and were probably the first people to understand the value of business aviation. This year is also the centenary of the year for which the Oswald Watt Gold Medal was first awarded ... to Frank Briggs. That being the case, 2021 would have been the perfect year for him to have been inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame. But my rant has dragged me slightly left of track. After hearing of the celebrations in Alice I immediately started plans to fly up there myself in October. Then, suddenly, lockdown. It brought home to me that it's nearly impossible to plan anything with great confidence in the current COVID environment. Even if lockdown in Melbourne and Sydney ends within weeks, from where do I get the confidence that there won't be another one come October, splattering my plans for Alice all over the place? It does make me wonder if general aviation is going onto a spontaneous footing, with people planning nothing then blasting off at very short notice. It's no way to run an aviation community, but it may be the only way forward from here.
One thing that is going ahead in a world where snap lockdowns are not so much of a risk, is World Championship Air Race. Organisers have stoked the embers left behind when the fire of Red Bull Air Race went out and have signed a line-up of competitors with a mix of experience and novitiate. Three RBAR world champions are strapping in again, and the revived competition means another chance for nearly-man Pete McLeod to fulfil his promise and for tyro Ben Murphy to prove he has the goods. It also means the top-level aspirations of Challenger-class stalwarts Melanie Astles and Florian Berger are alive and well again. We're not hearing anything about the wheres and whens of the 2022 program at the moment, but there'll be announcements in the coming months, I suspect. When the season starts, you find me sitting on the couch late at night in my Matt Hall onesie ready for the action. I just love this sport. Smoke on!
May your gauges always be in the green,