– Steve Hitchen
Right now it's almost impossible to determine accurately if general aviation is facing a down-turn or complete armageddon. Three of the five headlines in this week's newsletter are related to COVID-19, which you can take as an indicator of where the industry's focus is right now. Tourism operators have a lot of aeroplanes doing nothing at the moment as international visitors are stopped at our borders and bookings are increasingly having lines drawn through them. For many, charter operations are the smallest part of their revenue, and not enough to keep them afloat until the COVID calamity peters out some time in around three-four months. Perhaps longer. We knew it was going to be bad last week when the news feeds were dominated by the cancelation and postponement of air shows to comply with government policy, but only this week did the impact on commercial ops become clear. But there is an interesting paradox: some charter companies are saying the impact has been neutralised by an increase in charter inquiries. Although the environment in heavy jets is generally fine, people are starting to think about chartering their own plane as a safer option.
Just as frustrating right now is the government's response, particularly the aviation package, which looked to any reader to be exclusive to the airlines, i.e. Qantas, Virgin and Rex in the main. The Department has since stated verbally that it was supposed to include GA, but officially nothing has been put out, and won't be, apparently, until next week when the measures go before parliament. Then we'll know for sure. But is $715 million enough? When you take into account the fixed costs of the major airlines, there won't be a generous amount left in the kitty to support GA operators. In a nation that so often doesn't see aviation past the airlines, GA will have to fight to get share large enough to be a saving impact. In the meantime, perennial black-hats, the banks, have announced a six-month moratorium on loan repayments for small businesses. This is no minor measure, and was almost compulsory if many companies were ever going to emerge from this crisis intact; government hand-outs weren't ever going to do much if that money then had to be handed to a bank. CASA's promise to be flexible is encouraging, but it may come to pass that there is a big difference between their definition of "flexible" and the industry's. No-one wants safety compromised, but right now operators are under such intense pressure that genuine mistakes are more likely to be the case than intentional transgression.
But GA has one major advantage: we can still operate! People can still fly their own planes, hire planes, buy fuel and buy pilot supplies. Unless ScoMo puts us all into lockdown Italian-style, we can get still get out there and be what we are: aviators. Right now, the general aviation industry could do with some serious panic-buying and it's up to us to supply that. Aero clubs can still organise fly-aways to little remote cafes to inject money not only into aviation, but also into the regional areas, some of which are still labouring under the damage of the summer bushfires and don't need an added burden of no visitors. Provided we are smart about this and comply with all government health guidelines and rules, there's no reason why the fun aspect of aviation has to stop. I don't even have to remind you to not fly if you are feeling unwell; that's something airmanship demands from us on every flight. There's still so much we can do at this time, so let's do it.
One sparkly gem amongst the festering fen is that Wings over Illawarra is back on ... just a lot later in the year than we thought it was going to be. Postponed from the early May date, WOI will now go ahead 7-8 November. This is truly great news for the industry, Bright Events and the wider Shellharbour community. WOI is such a great event and without doubt the largest and most successful annual air show in the country; a staple of our aviation calendar and a brilliant showcase for aviation right on Sydney's doorstep.
Congratulations are due to Lea Vesic, who has moved from RAAus to the Department of Infrastructure and Transport as the minister's newest aviation advisor. She has replaced Steven Campbell, who has found a new home as the Government Relations Manager at Airservices. Good luck to both these people in their new roles ... and please keep taking Australian Flying's phone calls.
Cirrus owners! If you're thinking of going nuts with disinfectant as a plan of COVID-proofing your aeroplane, you need to put down the spray bottle and read this. The company has warned against using some types of cleaners on any part of your aeroplane. Go to the Cirrus website and get the good oil on what you can and can't do before a wayward swipe costs you big bucks.
May your gauges always be in the green,