– Steve Hitchen
Aviation has always been a pursuit driven by the passion of the people involved. The inner desire to grab an aeroplane and fly it just for the hell of it was perhaps the greatest and only valid motivator for learning to fly. Flight training is long, costly and requires dedication. If you're in it for the uniform or the prestige of international flight or like the idea of wearing wings, go and do something else. For decades that culture ensured that pilots loved what they were doing and had the drive to battle through flight training even when at times it would have been easier–and cheaper–to give up. But times change and so do the motivating factors for learning to fly. Armed with millions in student loans, many people without the passion to make it through are signing up for CPL training courses at larger academies. Whereas it has brought a lot of money into the flight training industry and thousands are now pursuing aviation careers, we are still talking about pilot shortages and airlines are still raiding flying schools for their highly-qualified CFIs. Something here isn't working, and perhaps it's time that we took a good look at the academy system to see if it's performing the way the industry, and the students, need it to. The situation with Box Hill Institute and Soar Aviation was bubbling before Christmas and boiled over in the New Year as ASQA pulled their approvals to deliver aviation training recognised diploma and degree courses. This is seriously bad for the aviation community because it leads the general public to lose trust in the whole flight training network. Both organisations are appealing the decisions and there is a class action brewing instigated by students, so the story is far from complete. However, it might be a catalyst to put the entire degree system under the microscope to see if it is delivering results worthy of investing taxpayers money. I can't help but feel that if we were getting it right, Australia's pilot shortage woes would be solved and Qantas wouldn't have set up their own academy.
Controversy continued with CASA opening feedback for the new AC on stall/spin training. The DA40 crash in Queensland brought the matter to a head when it was discovered that most training aircraft don't permit spins, including incipient spins. In some cases, the stall characteristics of an aeroplane mean that an incipient spin under some circumstances is almost inevitable, particularly a stall in base configuration. A power-on stall in something like a Piper Arrow will nearly always produce a wing-drop depending on the CoG and flap, and I am told you'll need to change your strides if you do that in a Bonanza. So that puts us in a position where technically we can't do stall training in base configuration, the very point of the circuit where a stall is most likely to occur! CASA is proposing to remove the requirement to recover from an incipient spin and substitute the requirement to recognise and recover from a wing-drop at the stall. Once, to get a PPL you had to recover from a full spin on three separate occasions, then that was reduced to incipient spin and now the AC proposes bringing that back to a wing-drop only. So are we watering down the required skills for a PPL? Some people are suggesting so, and believe a course of Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) should be mandatory for a PPL, or at least a CPL. UPRT covers what a pilot should do if they find themselves in an unusual attitude that will get more unusual unless they recover correctly ... such as an incipient spin. A full course of UPRT might be a bit over the top, but it would enhance the skills of PPLs and CPLs and give them a broader understanding of the aerodynamics around their aeroplane. I am looking forward to the AC feedback to see what other people think of the idea.
In early January I was involved in an air-to-air photo shoot for Mike Smith's new Sea Bear amphibian. We took it out over Corio Bay and the Bellarine Peninsula for an hour or so. When I got to look at the shots, I had to junk every image taken when the Sea Bear was above the horizon; smoke haze had destroyed the backgrounds. Australia has never been plagued by smoke haze to this depth before and it has caused issues for us aviators. The day of the photo shoot was not too bad, but other days have been largely unflyable. We are getting unusual weather that can be hard to interpret; cloud can be OK but the viz still below VFR minima. And it changes from departure to destination quicker than a forecast can be updated. Even if you're just up for circuits, smoke can make it hard to see the runway even from the downwind leg. The atmosphere at the moment on warm, smoky days is not really conducive to enjoying a flight, so perhaps staying on the ground is the best idea anyway. Whatever you do, be professional and stay safe. Oh, and look out for the usable Sea Bear shots in the next issue of Australian Flying.
May your gauges always be in the green,