– Steve Hitchen
The general aviation community's reaction to AFTIA has been varied but very forthright. The theme coming through to me is that everyone wishes the new association the best, but wants to see what emerges before they give it whole-hearted support. The audience gives a round of applause as the curtain goes up, but holds the standing ovation until they see how good the show actually is. With the flight training sector almost universally assessed as being under-represented for years you would think the GA community would show more enthusiasm, but that's being quelled slightly by concerns that published policies may be infected by self-interest. There's validity in that: it's a concern being aired about almost every association and advocacy group in the country, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that AFTIA is being subject to the same eyebrow-raising. However, there has been an obvious void in the flight training industry for many years: leadership. Not only in advocacy, but also in policy, promotion and development, there has been no association or any other entity that has helmed the industry. Despite the reservations expressed in the last week, the flight training industry is better off for having one banner for FTOs to unite behind.
CASA made a controversial call this week to grant Victoria Police a temporary restricted area over the Melbourne CBD to allow them to ban media helicopters from broadcasting the anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination demonstrations. We aviators are used to TRAs; they've been applied to things like sporting events, bushfires and presidential visits for years. We know what they are and what they're trying to achieve. However, the true motivation for this one has the GA community looking daggers in the direction of Aviation House. Normally TRAs are granted because, in general terms, it would be unsafe not to. During the bushfires in the summer of 2019-20 there were firebombers zipping around everywhere and relief aircraft crowding the airspace en masse around places like Mallacoota. But in this case there was no aviation safety risk at all; Victoria Police wanted to use the TRA as a tool for controlling the media. Civil liberties and censorship issues aside, this is not what TRAs were invented to achieve, and CASA shouldn't have granted the request if they weren't able to establish a safety reason for doing so. But what has emerged, frustratingly, is that people seem to be unable to separate the invalid reason for the TRA from anti-vax sentiments. It seems that if you're anti-TRA, then you're anti-vax. That is a connection driven by a passionate inability to rationalise thoughts under the stress of these extraordinary times. Time to take a big deep breath and look at this from a purely aviation stand-point. Is it in CASA's remit to allow law enforcement to control chunks of airspace simply to make their own job easier? A very unwanted precedent may have been set, but that depends upon the Federal Court next week.
May your gauges always be in the green,