– Steve Hitchen
News is reaching us only now that the doyen of general aviation journalism, Paul Phelan, died on 13 August. This was shattering news to me. Paul was the heart and soul of Australian Flying across two decades and helped build the reputation of the title as a magazine dedicated to the GA cause. Beyond that, Paul was my benchmark when it comes to writing about regulatory issues; a benchmark that I will never stop trying to reach. Anyone who ever had a problem with CASA had a champion in Paul Phelan. The entire aviation industry will feel his loss and the plethora of bloggers, vloggers and podcasters rising in general aviation today would do well to study his work and learn how the best did the job.
Some time in the next month, another iconic Australian invention will be shut down: the GA8 Airvan. GippsAero's owner, Mahindra Aerospace, has confirmed production will cease and the Latrobe Regional plant reduced to a service and spares organisation only. The official line is that COVID has killed it, but the truth is not as simple as that. Conversations with former GippsAero employees have had one consistent thread: the order books were deliberately closed and orders for up to 15 airframes were refused, a sure sign that Mahindra is looking for the exit unburdened by the pesky obligation to deliver new aeroplanes. The service and spares operation will keep the type certificate active, but I can't believe that Mahindra will want to be involved for very long in a company with such limited earnings potential. However, there is a slight hesitation in the cry "the end is nigh!" There is a very strong indication that Mahindra is still mulling over one offer to buy the company outright, no doubt at a figure well below what Mahindra wanted for it. Even Mahindra has told me that Airvan production will cease "for the time being", leaving the door open for a potential great escape for what is a great aeroplane that has earned its second chance. Yes, the straws I am grasping at are thin ones, but they're the only straws within reach.
Risk-based regulation in GA, as exhorted by the RAAA in their submission to the senate inquiry, may just be a pursuit without end. The basis of the concept is that the intensity of the regulation will be appropriate for the level of risk in a particular operation. That leaves the word "risk" open for evaluation, usually by a regulator that believes any operation involving an aeroplane is risky. Right now–despite several documents that contradict–regulation is applied to GA that is well above any sensible risk assessment, loading a lot of unnecessary cost on operators. The best example is the most well-known one: the rules for operating an A380 and a Cessna 402 are the same, despite the risks being substantially different. That's because CASA believes that the paying public should be guaranteed the same level of protection regardless of which aircraft they travel on. The flaw in that theory is obvious: what is risk for one is not risk for another, and applying the same rules to the C402 introduces a level of safety that proportionally exceeds that of the A380. It's unlikely this will change simply because it's easier for CASA to make it so and there is no existing mechanism that can bring about any change.
Fathers' Day is coming around again, as is the annual problem of what to buy him as a gift. This year it's easy: an annual subscription to Australian Flying is perfect, made even better by the great deal on offer. Six print issues of the magazine has been set at only $32. That's $5.33 per issue, a saving of 40% on the usual price. And whilst you're in there, check out the other magazines in the stable that might also appeal to Dad. Yachting, fishing, woodworking, bicycling, walking ... there's heap of great magazines ready to be read. Go to the Great Magazine website (where else?) and grab a bargain for Dad this Father's Day.
May your gauges always be in the green,