– Steve Hitchen
There are times when it's hard to tell the difference between political promises and marketing; there are also times when there is actually no difference at all. The job of trying to sort out the reality from the rhetoric falls to journalists such as, well, me. And when we start out on a task like this, the natural cynicism so important in our trade always screams to be satisfied, but if we are going to do a fair job of it, we have to suppress our urge to call "bullshit!" at everything that seeps from the political cistern; some of it might actually be genuine. One of the most perplexing tasks I've ever had to do is look closely at the government's actions in changing the wording of the Civil Aviation Act 1988. Strong indications from Canberra are that a bill will be set before parliament in 2019 incorporating into the Act the part of the Statement of Expectations (SOE) that compels CASA to take into account cost and risk levels before making new rules for us to abide by. On the first pass, it looks like the government is giving the Australian General Aviation Alliance (AGAA) exactly what it pleaded for at the July summit, but the second and third passes start to get the cynicism excited. Firstly, why? At Wagga, DPM Michael McCormack pointed out that the SOE is a legislative instrument and therefore CASA was already compelled to consider the cost. If that is the case, how will simply moving the words from one legislative document to the other actually force change? There is a difference between the two that could answer the question. The SOE is revised and updated with just about every change in Minister, and the cost and risk-level clauses could be struck out with one even application of liquid paper. The Act has been amended regularly, but is essentially the same instrument as it was in 1988. Incorporating the clauses there would protect it better from the policy-change whims that inevitably come with a change in power. To believe that is to suppress the creeping suspicion that this is all marketing designed to soothe the industry in preparation for the next federal election.
Secondly, the AGAA desire to have the promotion of aviation folded into CASA's bailiwick has been ignored, as has the call for safety to be removed as the priority when making regulations. Given their "druthers" I think the industry would rather have had these two implemented than the wording change. The show-stopper is that the promised bipartisanship is working against AGAA in this instance: both sides of parliament want to keep CASA purely as a safety regulator rather than resurrecting the Civil Aviation Authority and painting it up to look like the FAA. Keeping CASA as it is necessarily means leaving in the priority of safety. As the only body empowered to create safety regulation, realistically what else are they going to do but put safety first? At the AGAA summit, Mike Smith (the other one, not the round-the-world-in-a-Searey one) put forward the concept of an Office of Aviation Business within the department. We haven't heard anything of this yet, but that doesn't mean it won't happen ... the road is long. Acting on this initiative would show the aviation industry that both sides of the house are serious about aviation reform, and perhaps turn marketing into some valuable sales at the ballot box.
It would be so easy to throw Victorian Shadow Minister for Aviation Gordon Rich-Phillips under the same bus. In the past few days he announced a package of $24 million for regional airports if his government sweeps into power on 24 November. There have been a lot of numbers thrown around Victoria in the past couple of weeks, which is customary tactic in the lead-up to any election. The difference with Rich-Phillips is that he has form. As the Victorian Minister for Aviation under the previous Liberal government (in fact, he was Australia's only minister for aviation at any level), he shelled out a swag of taxpayer funding to regional airports. That all stopped when Daniel Andrews marched into the premiership and the new government turned the taps off. Most likely, the Labour government will stay in power on Saturday week, which will, unfortunately, ensure the dam on grants to airports stays firmly in place.
RAAus has taken a "Bob the Builder" approach in their latest strategy statement. The new slogan "A Pilot in Every Home" is very aspirational, and dovetails nicely with their contention that RAAus can be the entry level for general aviation. In short, GA needs help and "RAAus can fix it!" That has been a consistent message from Fyshwick for a year or so now, and they are forging ahead with it despite AOPA Australia trying to water down the RAAus product and put themselves forward as the saviours of aviation. Personally, I like the new slogan; it has echoes of the late 1940s when the US manufacturers were using the catchphrase "An Airplane in Every Home", and is a heck of a lot less controversial than "Freedom to Fly".
May your gauges always be in the green,