– Steve Hitchen
General Aviation's civil war made it to the senate this week as the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) once again fired-up their oversight of CASA. This time the target subject was self-administration and the medical certification system. The hearing was prompted by representations to the RRAT by members of the Australian General Aviation Alliance (AGAA), who were also in the hot seats presenting evidence alongside RAAus, the GFA and the warbirders. CASA, too, had their say. But if you read back through the Hansard, you'll find that much of the time in session was spent with the senators trying to clarify the situation as it stood now. Confusion seemed to be the byword for the day, with the senators struggling to understand the various levels of medical standards, pilot qualifications and even the way controlled airspace works. The confusion is infectious; anyone who watches the tape is likely to become befuddled even if they thought they knew what was going on at the beginning. One of the points of confusion that has arisen is exactly what AGAA wants. Later elaboration reveals that they want a self-assessed medical for any pilot who flies an aeroplane with an MTOW up to 600 kg, with only one other person on board and outside CTA, whether or not that aeroplane is registered with CASA or RAAus. In other words, they are not fighting for all PPLs to go self-assessed ... in this hearing anyway. However, AGAA key member, the SAAA, says in their submission that they want self-assessed medicals for PPLs for all aircraft up to 5700 kg MTOW.
For me, the other confusing point is the aim of all this. AGAA, as articulated in the hearing by Ben Morgan, believes simply that GA pilots have the right to self-assessed medicals and shouldn't have to pay money to RAAus to get it. Fair enough, but what is the end game here? Currently, there are around 485 powered aircraft on the VH register that have an MTOW up to 600 kg. The owners of these aircraft are the ones that would gain most immediately from a self-assessed medical because they could remain on the CASA register, but could delete their DAME's contact details. Subsequently, there could be a flow from RAAus back to VH-registered if owners saw the value in saving RAAus membership fees, but going back to more stringent maintenance programs. Is that what the industry is after? If not that, then what? The one constant in all the rhetoric is principle: why should RAAus pilots have freedoms that GA pilots don't have? That's solid reasoning, and will score pretty high on any pub test, but the reality is that CASA will struggle to make it happen. RAAus enables pilots who are struggling to keep their medicals to stay in the air; it is a lesser privilege regime (RPC) that requires a lesser medical standard. CASA is being asked to effectively dismantle that concept and allow a lesser medical standard to apply to a higher privilege regime (RPL/PPL), which is a step outside their comfort zone.
And unfortunately CASA made themselves no friends by launching at AGAA's evidence from the outset, waving a sheet of paper that they said proves that there was industry agreement for the new regulations that they boldly offered to table. The offer was taken up, but on closer examination was found not only to show no proof of agreement, but also to contain a statement that there was no total agreement! That immediately empowered the senators to start flinging accusations of misleading evidence, and if there is one thing that will angry-up the blood of a senator it is believing someone is trying to mislead them. It was an embarrassment for CASA and CEO Shane Carmody. How did this happen? Was Carmody handed the wrong piece of paper? We are going to find out soon as the RRAT has asked for all and every detail about who did and didn't agree with the new regulations ... and they want it soon. Some people in the industry are sniggering in the background because they believe no such evidence exists, which will serve to mire CASA even further if they are right.
Now for something exciting: the Vulcanair V1.0. This aeroplane is getting rave reviews all around the world at the moment as a potential replacement for the ageing Cessna and Piper four-seaters. Although both these aircraft are still in production, the asking price has many potential owners looking askance and preferring to keep well-worn airframes in the air for economic reasons. This machine is priced at over $US100,000 less, which throws down a very serious challenge to Wichita and Vero Beach. The first V1.0 is due in Australia very soon, and you can guarantee Australian Flying will be all over it like a rash. Is it as good as many pundit say? We'll get our chance to find out soon.
Congratulations to Matt Hall for finishing runner-up in this year's Red Bull Air Race World Championship. It's his third second-place finish and threatens to lumber him with the old "bridesmaid" tag. There is no doubt he and his team are made of championship stuff, and except for 2017 when they were breaking in a new aeroplane, Matt Hall Racing has been one of the most consistent performers year-after-year. Matt will be a very hungry man at the moment; he's driven to fly, driven to race and driven to win. Next year, you can almost bet that MHR will be up there again, with the carrot of a world title once again dangling in the face of the team. Roll on 2019.
May your gauges always be in the green,