Steve Hitchen

A very wise and well-informed person once told me that if you have to choose between the likelihood of a conspiracy or a major blunder at CASA, go for the major blunder every time! It's a philosophy that has guided me well ... until now. Yesterday CASA released their decision on the uncharted airfield frequency issue, but there are some serious problems with the accompanying narrative. I will attempt now to summarise. "In April we decided to recommend using the Multicom 126.7 and the majority of feedback supported the proposal, so as a result of this feedback we have decided to proceed with recommending the area VHF." WT-bloody-F? Logic like that is not going to get you a pass mark in COM101 at uni. It could be another blunder, but this time, I'm voting for conspiracy. Something, or someone, has changed the regulator's mind and we're not being told what or who that is, but clearly the force was powerful enough for CASA to risk their future relationship with the industry by doing a 180 then telling the aviation community it was a result of the feedback. Regardless of what your favourite frequency is, this consultation looks compromised. If it was safe for CASA to recommend the Multicom in April, why is it no longer safe to do so in October? Multicom has gone from an "acceptable level of risk" (CASA's words) to an unacceptable level of risk. And as the risk assessments were done before this last round of consultation, the risk must have been known when CASA decided to recommend the Multicom back in April. Something is curdled in Copenhagen. In some ways I feel sorry for CASA; this issue got very big on them and it looks to the world like they didn't know how to handle it.

Dalton Trumbo couldn't have written a better script: one day after CASA released their vexxing decision on the CTAF issue, the results of the satisfaction survey are published, showing how much happier we are with them now than in 2015. I wonder if we'd get the same results if we had the chance to do the survey again next week. As I see it, the mystery behind CASA's about-face on the Multicom has signatures of three major behaviours we were hoping would be weeded out of the regulator by now: arbitrary decision making, failing to take notice of the industry and inconsistency. It sort of looks like a throw-back doesn't it? To be fair, the results of the survey are very impressive for CASA; they show industry at large finally agrees with the consistent spiel that CASA is improving. There have been a heap of changes within CASA since the Forsyth Report came out, and it was always going to take time to turn the regulator around. The survey results are not an indicator that it's all smooth sailing from here on, but it's possible we could be now entering the era when the impacts of the changes are starting to be felt. It makes the Multicom result even more disappointing.

Persistence, it seems, has paid off for Piper. It was only three years ago in 2015 that Vero Beach announced they would need to slash their workforce by 15-20% because of soft demand, and now production is back to the pre-GFC levels. If we look back to that year, we see that Piper sold a total of 138 aeroplanes; Cessna sold 143 Skyhawks alone. There was plenty of market for Piper, it's just that the competition had most of it. The elixer that has sparked Piper's revival has clearly been the Archer III, which has been reinvented as a trainer rather than the cross-country cruiser it has been traditionally. Adding Garmin avionics made it more attractive to pilot academies and universitites. Support came from a revamp of the M-series, with the new M600 steadily increasing in demand. It seems the company has the high and low ends of their product offering nicely placed, but there's a problem in the middle. With Cessna's C182T proving there is a market for a fast four-seater, the Piper Arrow V is not getting the scorers off their chairs much, and the company moved only nine M350s last year. Could the M350 be a touch too much aeroplane for that market? The obvious solution is one that the general aviation community has been badgering Piper about for over a decade: bring back the Cherokee 236. Piper has resisted doing this as they concentrated on two projects that went pear-shaped: the Piper Altaire jet and the PiperSport LSA. With those two consigned to the history books and production levels back on track, will Piper now have the capacity and mind space to think about their mid-range offering?

And now a word of warning for pilots in the Melbourne basin. Procedures for the coastal route around Port Phillip Bay from Carrum to Laverton BOM Tower are changing on 8 November. The new VTC shows the altitudes have changed and reversed. According to my sources, this was necessary because of a new approach for Melbourne RWY 34. I have to give Airservices a bit of a slap here: that change is very significant for separation and the GA community should have been informed in a more prominent way than in 6pt text on a chart. Yes, we all know that we are supposed to fly with and obey the current charts, but that doesn't take into account the human tendency to keep doing what's been done for the last few decades without checking. This change has the potential to put two aeroplanes head-to-head at the same altitude ... and we're not getting the message out. My mail also says that this amendment did not go through the Regional Airspace and Procedures Advisory Committee (RAPAC), which wouldn't have helped. If you fly coastal on Port Phillip Bay or along the bottom of Melbourne City on an east-west track you need to know about this now!

May your gauges always be in the green,


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