– Steve Hitchen
The engines are still cooling down on Ausfly and there's still a lot of talking to be done, but the general opinion I got was one I absolutely expected even before turning a wheel north: there's no room in GA for two separate national fly-ins. Ausfly and AirVenture are beasts of different natures and that may be one of the great sticking points in getting them back together. AirVenture is more commercial and therefore vulnerable to the usual economic forces that most air shows have to find away to either tackle or side-step. Ausfly doesn't have an attendance charge and exhibitors were expected only to make a donation. The words in my ears are that both shows were not exactly caberets when it came to showcasing the industry to the public, but that Ausfly can better cope with fluctuations in attendance (and the weather will always make sure that there are fluctuations) than AirVenture can. Perhaps the point most impressed upon me was that people are definitely reluctant to support both and next year, like this year, will have to hand a rose to one or the other.
Last Thursday the senate voted down the Centre Alliance's disallowance motion on CASA's Angel Flight restrictions. Ever since the AGAA summit in Wagga Wagga last year the coalition and opposition has said they will take a bipartisan approach to aviation safety and this vote showed that in action: they banded together to make sure commonsense was beaten down. It was only Nationals Senator Susan McDonald who crossed the floor to vote with the independents, but it needs to be pointed out that the other three Nationals senators didn't stick their hands up for either side. Missing also were some other senators who have history of taking up the cudgels for GA. So, did all these absentees just not vote or were they not in the senate that day? Here's some scurrilous speculation to muse about over coffee. Did those senators prefer to completely abstain over the vote rather than cross the floor and be scalded by the steam coming out of their Leaders' ears? With the who-cares-about-aviation majority from both the left and the right obeying those who pre-selected them, aviation needed greater support from those on the major parties that understand the truth. The loss of this vote gives the impression that only the "lunatic fringe" cares about aviation. The real story is that aviation also has supporters on the lunatic left and the lunatic right; they were just missing on the day.
AOPA's Ben Morgan was unusually up-beat about progess on regional airports at Ausfly. Those airports owned by councils have been under crucible-like pressure in the recent past with many threatened with closure or being subject to sudden, significant rises in fees and charges. According to Morgan, AOPA has learned how to deal with the councils and found a way to show them how to keep their runways. The secret, he says, is that councils generally have no aviation experience and really don't understand that there are options for airports other than adhereing to CASA's rules on registered or certfied airports. The problem with downgrading regional airports to ALAs is that you can now forget your aspirations about getting a regional air service. For those country towns that will never support RPT, the downgrade to ALA status is a logical step. For the others that have RPT or are agitating to get one, keeping the airport registered or certified is crucial: airlines hate landing on goat tracks and hate the goats that use them. But with RPT comes the cost of security, terminals and associated infrastructure that RPT income rarely covers completely. It is to the private owners and hangar lessees that the airports turn to make up the shortfall. Right now there is no answer to that one, and if one is not found soon, I can see a future where the private owners will have to decamp to the ALAs and leave the major regional airports to the airlines. If AOPA has a panacea for that one, I will be very impressed indeed.
It is understandable if people don't understand the AOPA/SAAA/AGAA stance on the RAAus weight increase. In short, they have stated they oppose the weight increase for RAAus whilst happy for RAAus to be able to administer aircraft of higher weights. Getting in behind this, what they're saying is that what has been put forward in the CASA discussion paper is short-changing the industry, and they'd rather have a complete revamp of the rules across all GA than just concede on the weight increase now.. Whereas RAAus is looking to take baby steps AGAA wants to start with the long jump. However, I feel in doing so, AGAA has handed CASA a reason to ignore them. At this point in time, CASA has on the table only a weight increase and nothing else. SAAA said they have objected to that, but AOPA, rather than tick one box or the other, has drawn their own box and ticked that. Has AOPA surrendered their right to have a say, something that might come back to bite them later on? CASA, being a bureaucracy, is likely to get all bureaucratic, and unable to find a box to put the AOPA submission in, might just put it in the round one.
Just a short personal note of support for the mainstream media outlets that today have started their campaign on media rights. It's obvious that something needs to be done to stop the government putting stronger clamps on investigative journalism in the name of national security. Australia has become a nation of secrets, with bureaucratic agencies acting as sentinels to protect themselves and the public images of the politicians. Using the excuse of "security", journalists all over the country are facing a censorship campaign from the government not seen at this level since the end of the Second World War. Even the Freedom of Information Act is being abused as more and more agencies are using obscure excuses allowed in the legislation to refuse to disclose information. I was recently exposed to this as CASA redacted a heap of information in documents supplied to Glen Buckley in his battle with the regulator. In fact, the documents were 100% redacted because CASA considered them subject to legal privilege. This is a very thin excuse designed, I believe, to limit embarrassment to CASA. Apparently it is far more important that we do that than adhere to one of the keystones of democracy: the right of the people to know what there elected representatives and the paid bureaucrats are really doing.
May your gauges always be in the green,