– Steve Hitchen

Tyabb Air Show looks like it has won a stay of execution. That's great news for the aero club, local community, charities and aviation in general, but it still doesn't answer the question about why it was on death row to start with. In isolation, it seems some very municipal administration took over from commonsense and the council began drifting into CASA's sphere of responsibility, demanding practices that placed pilots in unsafe situations. That's not unusual from most councils in Australia that have an airport within their boundaries. But taking things in isolation makes for very poor analysis. When you add in chapters about enforcing obsolete curfews and shutting down companies because permits can't be found, a very different story starts to emerge. It's a story about a crusade to obstruct and disadvantage Tyabb Airport powered only by  nonsensical zephyrs of opinion. That the local council buckled quickly under political and social pressure shows that the procedure they were demanding had no substance to begin with. If it had, it would have taken a lot more to collapse the paradigm. It does make you wonder what the next stanza in this epic is going to be. The zephyrs might be nonsensical, but they are niggling and persistent in the ears of the council. It may take a court ruling to shut down the crusade once and for all.

The ATSB is under fire from the senate over the report into the Mount Gambier Angel Flight crash. The RRAT committee is looking sternly at the conclusions and wondering why the bureau focused on Angel Flight's management and made no recommendations relating to the actions of the pilot. It was a VFR-into-IMC incident, which continues to be one of the leading causes of fatal accidents in Australia. This was to be expected. Senator Rex Patrick has been an unashamed supporter of Angel Flight and like many others in the GA community has been questioning CASA's approach to community service flights. I am comfortable stating that I am also not happy with either the ATSB's conclusions or the CASA restrictions applied to Angel Flight. RRAT has launched an inquiry into the Mount Gambier report, which I expect will focus again on the data underpinning the assumptions that Angel Flight missions are more dangerous than normal private flights. Never in this field of conflict has data come under such scrutiny ... it's even before the courts. The ATSB has relied heavily on their own data interpretation to justify their decisions, which will cause all sort of strife if the data conclusions are declared invalid. The ATSB may be called upon to have another look at their recommendations; an embarrassment of Norfolk-Island proportions.

It is even more perplexing that the ATSB made no direct recommendations on the actions of the pilot that day in Mount Gambier given that they have themselves this week cast the spotlight on VFR-into-IMC with their new "Don't Push it, Don't Go" campaign. In this column last week I vented about inadequate training for VFR pilots, and this report just bolsters that belief. The Mount Gambier crash may have been an Angel Flight mission, but this report shows there are plenty of instances of VFR-into-IMC that were unrelated to community service flights. According to the ATSB, pilot decision-making is one of the leading factors in this sadly-repeating phenomenon and it could easily be argued that decision-making was a key factor in the Angel Flight crash, so I don't know why the ATSB would choose to play down the link between this accident and other instances of VFR-into-IMC. Whatever your belief, visual pilots are continuing to get tangled up in cloud and too many times this results in tragedy and it needs to be looked at more holistically and with a view to doing something concrete about it.

There's a bit of mystery about the innovative and revolutionary Icon A5. The company's recent announcement of staff cuts comes on the back of softening demand for the amphibious LSA. That's not unusual; Piper had to do the same thing not that long ago ... "rightsizing" they call it. But when the A5 was certified in 2015, the company was rolling up their sleeves and setting about a backlog of 1250 aircraft. At a planned rate of 175 airframes per year, that meant seven years worth of work. As the company learned to build the aircraft, they had to slash their production rates, which meant delivery times to customer blew out by a year. But now demand has softened? What happened to the backlog? The company has been very honest in admitting production woes have forced up the price of the aircraft, which we now have to presume has triggered a lot of customers to bail out on their orders. It goes to show that in this industry (and many others) sometimes you can out-succeed yourself. The A5 looks like a magnificent little aeroplane; let's hope it can find its own happy medium soon.

May your gauges always be in the green,


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