– Steve Hitchen
Community service flights (CSF) have been at the centre of whirlwind of acrimony over the past few years, so it's encouraging to see the issue sliding towards some level of compromise. With the amended CSF instrument published today, CASA has conceded some points after long negotiation with operators, particularly Angel Flight. It's still not perfect, but contains provision to be much better in that it will soon contain an exemption for pilots who conform to the requirements of the organisation.This is sensible because in most cases the organisations' requirements exceed those of the instrument anyway. Removing the need for airwork-standard maintenance on aircraft used in CSFs should release many more pilots who have been stuck in limbo. The regs worked against pilots who flew more hours in their aircraft every year, which meant the most experienced and current pilots weren't permitted to fly CSFs. They are the very pilots that CASA should have been encouraging to fly for the likes of Angel Flight. Although, as Marjorie Pagani has pointed out, the amendments don't make for perfect regulation, they are a good step towards thawing the relationship between CASA and the CSF community and freeing organisations to get on with the vital job they perform.
This week's eNews from Australian Flying should have contain my views on the conclusions and recommendations on the RRAT committee inquiry into the GA industry. The final report was due yesterday, but instead we got crickets. Now we'll have to wait until October, although an interim report is due on 30 March. For that to be of any value, it will have to be more comprehensive than the last interim report which said in essence "we haven't had time to do enough to report". After a year of COVID, that was understandable. But now significant work has been done and the GA community wants to see something, literally, in writing. What this further delay has done is take the final report from pre-election and make it post-election. If the government changes and key ministers and senators find themselves scowling from the opposition ranks, it may be that there is no motivation to convert the recommendations of the final report into policy. Although heir-apparent to the ministry Catherine King has made some agreeable statements, we still have very little indication from the ALP if their sympathies lie with us or agin us. If it's agin us, the last two years (so far) of inquiry might be headed for the round filing cabinet. Regardless of who wins, the inquiry will lapse when parliament is prorogued and will have to be re-referred to the senate.
About three weeks ago we put a new story on the Australian Flying website detailing a mystery around why the answer to a question taken on notice about court costs awarded against Angel Flight was not made public. It seems no-one knew and no-one was responsible for the decision. The answer arrived in my inbox a few days ago: it seems the committee didn't publish the letter because it was interim information. Furthermore, some submissions from Angel Flight were also suppressed and not published on the inquiry website. That was also a deliberate decision, I am told. The reasoning behind all of this was that the committee wanted to stop the inquiry becoming a battleground for something that had already been settled in court. But there might have been something else behind it. Both CASA and Angel Flight had been talking again to resolve things in negotiations that led to the above legislative amendments, and no-one, not CASA, not Angel Flight and probably not the senators, wanted to queer the process with acrimony.
Textron's move to buy Pipistrel will deliver them a lead-in to the electric- and hybrid-power industries, which are being seen as the immediate future of aircraft engines in GA aircraft. The organisation has form with doing this; they bought Columbia to get composite technology and expertise, even though the TTx was, by most measures, a market failure. For big conglomerates like Textron, acquisition is usually cheaper than developing your own and it also takes out a competitor, but you need to do it right and not swamp the best attributes of the company you buy with incompatible business practices (yes, I'm looking at you, Mahindra). But in Pipistrel, Textron has also acquired a healthy market in light sport aircraft (LSA). I suspect the news has some within Textron sucking their thumbs as supressed memories of their last foray into the LSA market, the disastrous C162 Skycatcher (192 sold), revisit them. The press release by both companies fails to mention the future of the Pipistrel Virus SW and Explorer, and how their Rotax engines fit into the philosophy of Textron eAviation isn't immediately obvious. Three paths come to mind: change nothing and take the income, convert to hybrid or electric, and divest. We will find out Textron's preferred path, no doubt, in the fullness of time.
May your gauges always be in the green,