– Steve Hitchen
Regional Express seems to have come up with a left-of-centre answer to its crew shortage. The airline this week announced it had bought Singapore-based ST Engineering's Ballarat flying academy, STAA. STAA has been training students for Chinese airlines for over 10 years and still has some good contracts in place. Rex already had their own academy at Wagga Wagga, and adding the Ballarat operation gives them more capacity and shadows Qantas' move to set up flying schools in Toowoomba and Mackay. But buildings, aeroplanes and runways don't train students to ATPL level ... only instructors can do that. Right now this country is in the grip of a regulation-driven instructor drought that threatens the basic foundations of the GA industry. That won't have much of an impact on Rex. You may remember a news story from two weeks ago where Rex announced they had gained permission to import instructors? So what they can do is set up a pipeline for instructors trained overseas away from the boat-anchor regulation of Part 61 to come to their academies at Ballarat and Wagga Wagga. Smart move on their behalf. However, this is likely to drive yet another nail into the coffin of private GA, as employment opportunities for the very few instructors trained here dry-up even further.
Epic Aircraft has finally brought their E1000 SETP to market. This ambitious project to turn an assistance-built kitplane into a fully-certified aircraft took seven years. There's nothing unusual in that, but it has come at a time when the SETP market is beginning to show signs of saturation and decline. The GAMA shipment figures for Q3 2019 indicate a down-turn in turbo-prop sales; there once was a time when the sector was the life preserver that kept the industry's head above water. SETPs rose as the darlings of the industry at a time when it became clear the much-vaunted VLJ concept was a bit of a fraud and impossible to produce anyway. With customers now presented with a smorgasbord of aircraft that includes the C208, Kodiak 100, GA10, TBM 900 series, PC-12, PAC 750XL, Piper M500/600 and promises of the Cessna Denali, is there room for the E1000? And there is the lure of the SF50 Vision, which is pitched squarely in that market in terms of speed, capability and price. Then consider also that Diamond has been sniffing around with the DA50-JP7 idea. In the meantime, the best-selling SETPs in Q3 2019 experienced zero growth. All the others went backward. The advantage for the E1000 is it's speed. At over 300 KTAS max it has only two other aircraft competing for the single-engine dollar: the TBM 910/940 and the SF50. That being the case, the E1000 can probably find elbow room somewhere in its target market.
Last night Dubbo, Bendigo and West Sale airports took home the chocolates at the annual Australian Airports Association (AAA) awards held on the Gold Coast. The lauding of Dubbo has drawn the ire of the Regional Airports Users Action Group (RAUAG) and its head Geoff Breust. Breust has aired claims of Dubbo's operators displaying "an arrogant and aggressive approach to its dealing with the airlines and non consultative approach to excessive airport infrastructure development, especially its airport terminal and plans for upgrades to mainline jet aircraft." Breust also took aim at the AAA and accused them of being out of touch and having a "selfish" approach. You could easily dismiss this as a tin-hatted rant, except that Breust is one of the most respected people in regional aviation and has decades of experience running regional airlines on his CV. It will be interesting to see if the AAA elects to respond.
May your gauges always be in the green,