– Steve Hitchen
As Christmas presents go, the Federal Government's Aviation Recovery Framework placed under the tree on 20 December was right up there with a new bike. Although it was wrapped as a COVID recovery plan, the box also contained a recognition that general aviation could play a very large role in a future Australian economy if some shackles were removed. The more I read through, the more excited I got: it was looking like just about everything general aviation had ever wanted was being handed to us wrapped in a big bow. But remembering the old adage about things that look too good to be true, I grabbed my mobile phone and started making some calls. Everyone I spoke to was over the moon, with one very respected source calling it a "great day for GA". CASA went public with support for the framework before I even had a chance to ask them about it! Something momentous had happened for sure; GA had broken through some form of hard barrier and had garnered support from powerful people in Canberra. All of this before the senate inquiry has even tabled their report.The sharp-eyed would have noticed the similarities between the framework, reforms in the UK and the General Aviation Advisory Network (GAAN) strategy paper. It was almost as if the politicians had been listening. As usual, cynicsm began to creep into the enthuasim like a blackberry in a rose garden. Promises from governments meant nothing; it will all be lost if the Coalition loses the next election. Both of those things are true, although my mail says that Labor is prepared to support critical changes to the Aviation Act 1996 that have long been a weeping sore. Are we on the home stretch to general aviation Nirvana? We have no way of knowing until after the May federal election, because you can guarantee nothing is going to happen before then.
Having made that bold statement, the Department of Infrastructure has launched into a review of six pieces of legislation that govern the operation of airports. It's hardly the intiative hinted at in the Aviation Recovery Framework because under sunset rules the regs were going to expire in April 2024 anyway; therefore, this review was always going to happen. However, it is now happening in the context of the Federal Government theoretically having declared its intentions. And that's where the fun begins. The framework promises that the revised legislation will force airport master plans to focus on aircraft operations. This will not please airport lease-holders who didn't get into the airport industry with the intent of running airports, but rather to maximise the use of the land for non-aviation purposes. Runways have been closed, taxiways demolished, businesses evicted and movements plummeted whilst successive Federal Governments turned the other cheek. Now the department says their eyes are open and they see what has been going on. The issue, if pursued with any vigour, will place them at odds with powerful leaseholders. At stake is the future of general aviation, for without efficient airports that focus on aircraft operations above all else, the government may just find their recovery framework failing on many levels. All other initiatives in the framework rely on having airports.
Our 2021 retrospective showed that despite the ongoing saga of the coronavirus pandemic (now two years old), aviation was generating plenty of news. Some good, some bad. One of the most interesting was the leaps and bounds taken in alternative energy and its hand-in-hand partner, urban mobility. Whilst much of the world was signing onto using sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), hydrogen-electricity engines were starting to emerge as a viable fuel option for a future that looks increasingly like it doesn't include fossil fuels. Urban mobility looks like entering the market with electric engines; the current technology suits the stop-start, short-hop nature of the customer demand. There's a lot to catch up on here. Another running story was the on-again, off-again nature of the GA senate inquiry. This was frustrated regularly by the inability to hold public hearings as scheduled, which in turn impacted the committees ability to gather evidence. However, on the final hearings in December, the committee began to show an understanding that made the GA community believe this has not all been for naught. The report was delayed until this coming March, but a good report in this case is much better for us than a half-baked one that missed a lot of good points. For the recreational aviation community, the big story was CASA finally giving the green light for ASAOs to administer up to 760-kg MTOW aircraft. There has, of course, been gnashing of teeth from parts of the GA community and further accusations of unlevel playing fields, but for RAAus in particular, the change of regulation is a real shot in the arm. On the downside, lots of air shows and fly-ins were canceled and the RAAF missed the opportunity to make a big song and dance about their centenary. With the Omicron variant running rampant through the community, 2022 already doesn't look like a year of salvation, it is beginning to resemble a mirror-image of 2021.
Congratulations to all our CASA Wings Awards winners for 2021! It was a very hard-fought competition this year, which stretched the judges, and there were categories that really could have gone either way. Borg Sorensen was a stand-out candidate for the Col Pay Award for a Lifetime of Service to General Aviation; it really was for people like Borg that this award was created in the first place. Bathurst did well with both Bathurst Aero Club and Ward Air taking out their respective categories and Jack Caddy as Instructor of the Year rounded out the podium of four. No-one took out the Young Achiever category because there were no valid entries that addressed the criteria. That is a real shame, because I know there are young people at the airports around Australia doing great things for aviation that deserve this recognition. All we need is for someone to advocate for them with a bit of vigour.
May your gauges always be in the green,