– Steve Hitchen
How good does it feel to have the Federal Election behind us, regardless of what you reckon about the result. A surprising win for the Coalition (I had them dead in the water weeks ago), so congratulations to them for doing a Bradbury. What it means for aviation is that after all the lobbying and promises, not a lot will change. There is money on the table for regional airports, which is very welcome indeed, and hopefully initiatives such as the General Aviation Advisory Group will continue. With Barnaby Joyce ruling out a leadership challenge and Michael McCormack keeping his crown as leader of the Nationals, there seems to be no apparent reason to change Minister for Transport. Traditionally the leader of the Nats has taken the role (Darren Chester was an exception), so even though ScoMo hasn't–at the time of writing–announced his cabinet yet, the only way the minister will change is if McCormack doesn't want it anymore ... and I'm not expecting that to be the case.
The investigation report into the tragic crash of a DA40 out of Archerfield has exposed a major chink in the armour of the syllabus: the aircraft we are using may not be suitable for training. Whereas CASA requires incipient spin training (recognising the onset of a spin and preventing it from happening), many training aircraft used in Australia are marked by the manufacturer as "no spin" aeroplanes. For years, we've presumed that meant fully-developed spins, but Diamond Aircraft has just declared all spins, including incipient, as off limits. What that will mean for flying schools using DA40s is that they'll have to qualify their students in other aeroplanes that can be spun. And that puts Cessna's C172 back in the box seat; it can be spun according to the POH. Piper, however, prohibits spinning in the Archer III. At the time of writing Piper Aircraft has not replied to the question as to whether or not they consider an incipient spin to be a prohibited manoeuvre. The DA40 investigation was unable to answer one compelling question. Although Diamond bans spins, the DA40 POH contains a recovery procedure that looks like a standard PARE process. As the instructor had been through spin training, why did the aircraft not recover? Perhaps it's time to look more closely at spin training as part of the syllabus ... but in aeroplanes where it is permitted, of course.
Do little red circles on charts ensure safety? That is CASA's response to a proposal to put a gas plume in the circuit at Albion Park. It appears the regulator has decided that is an appropriate action to take to a situation that the Federal Aviation Administration says "may pose a unique hazard to aircraft in critical phases of flight (particularly takeoff, landing and within the pattern) and therefore are incompatible with airport operations." The proposed Tallawarra B gas turbine will shoot a column of gas up to 1300 feet in the air at a rate being assessed as 6.1 metres per second, making it a clear and present danger to air navigation. I really don't think a red circle on a chart is going to cut it. A more appropriate response would be to block the development. That's going to be difficult given that the proponent is the powerful Energy Australia. However, there is an alternative, albeit an inconvenient one for EA. Permission has been given to build a closed-cycle gas plant as an option, which means the gas efflux is collected and converted to electrical energy rather than shot into the path of light aircraft. CASA should be taking the lead on what is clearly an unsafe situation rather than demanding little circles whilst the aviation community goes to war to ensure genuine safety.
We're going to be hearing a lot more about automation in the future. Although it applies largely to heavy commercial aeroplanes, significant automation has already cascaded down to GA in aircraft like the Cirrus range and the Daher TBM 900 series. The ethos behind automation is that it will remove opportunity for pilot-induced disasters. What we don't talk much about is the potential for error created by the presence of the automation itself. Flying instructors will regularly bemoan pilots whose heads have been drawn back into the cockpit by PFDs and MFDs, and you'll hear the phrase "children of the magenta line" in most flight training organisations. But perhaps a deeper issue is that pilots may be using systems they don't completely understand, yet they are prepared to surrender control to computers. The B737 MAX problems are brightest cinder in the fire at the moment, yet only 10 years ago QF72 ran away on its crew and starting pitching up and down violently in response to faulty data. That situation was recovered not by more technology, but by a captain and crew prepared to do pilot stuff when pilot stuff was needed. Back in the dark ages (when C150s were still being made new), a flying instructor told me I lived in "the era of the pilot", meaning that one day the era would end and automation do all the work. Are we honestly ready for that? Will we ever be ready for that? It is concerning that we are presuming that automation will completely remove the need for the human hand, and are failing to recognise that automation is not in any way infallible. Afterall, wasn't it one of those very fallible humans that wrote the software?
The GA community has so far responded well to our change in the nomination platform for the 2019 Wings Awards. At the moment, it will take you about two minutes to nominate who you believe should be recognised this year. Once you've done that, the judging panel will short-list nominations and then call for a full submission. The tactic here should be for you to get the name in front of the judges first of all, and quietly work away at your full submission in the background. You can nominate via the Australian Flying website right now!
May your gauges always be in the green,