• Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)
    Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)

– Steve Hitchen

Senators have the right to throw up any question to a government body in inquiry or Estimates hearings. It is the place where the bureaucrats that have such a significant impact on the lives of ordinary people have to answer to the representatives of those ordinary people. Answers given to questions are considered evidence, so if a senator throws a hand grenade that an organisation is not prepared to catch and throw back, that organisation has the option to take the question on notice, which means they'll answer it later. But in the case of CASA, the senators are starting to think that process is being abused. In both Estimates and the GA inquiry, CASA seems to have come unprepared to answer questions on current issues. The inability of Jonathon Aleck to answer the question about Angel Flight costs in a GA inquiry hearing was the straw that broke the camel's back. As the head legal eagle at CASA, the senators thought he would have to know what the costs were as part of his role. That left two possibilities: CASA was sandbagging or they genuinely didn't know. Either way they probably deserved the admonishing they got. Things got worse in Estimates last week when it seemed CASA wasn't able to answer any questions at all. Senator McCarthy accused CASA CEO Pip Spence of just that. There was a certain level of unfairness in this. The CEO cannot know the answers to every question without micro-managing the organisation; they have to rely on middle-management experts to supply the answer in hearings. That so many critical issues are being taken on notice indicates, to me, that the fault lies with that managment strata who aren't briefing their CEO properly. They need to get their ducks in line for the next time they front the senators or I wouldn't rule out a complete RRAT committee meltdown.

The need for a complete change of culture within the regulator was first formalised during the short-lived reign of Mark Skidmore as Director of Aviation Safety. He started the transition towards just culture, and after his departure the torch was theoretically taken up by Shane Carmody. But it seems to the GA industry that CASA's culture has not undergone any change at all, thwarted, perhaps, by a labyrinth of bureaucracy that has no end. That culturewhich perhaps could be described as an unjust culturecame under the heaviest fire it has for a long time in senate Estimates. Senator Susan McDonald waved a pile of papers and forcefully expressed her concerns over the treatment of a GA operator in Orange. Supporting fire came from Senator Rex Patrick who accused CASA of destroying the GA industry and CEO Pip Spence of delivering platitudes instead of firm answers to questions. Clearly, he had reached some form of limit, and Senator McDonald is standing with him shoulder-to-shoulder on that matter. Interestingly, McDonald mixed her ire at CASA with praise for Spence, revealing that the senator believes the problems in CASA don't come from the corner office in Aviation House, but from walled cubicles somewhere else on the floor. If I may speculate a bit, I suspect McDonald is casting the evil eye lower down the hierarchy chart. Can a genuine just culture be put in place at CASA with managers who agree in principle but disagree in action? I, for one, will be disappointed if the report into the GA inquiry doesn't recommend some changes in CASA along these lines, especially after McDonald virtually said in Estimates that she was ready to recommend CASA be disbanded in view of the poor culture that exists.

GAMA shipment figures show that demand for GA aircraft is on the path the recovery after being heavily suppressed by the pandemic. The downturn was caused in part by soft demand and in part by supply-chain problems that prevented complete aircraft from being sent to customers. It all comes down to confidence in the end. New aeroplanes are capital investments for individuals and companies, and in times of economic uncertainty, people want to hang on to their cash. The slow but steady recovery of the industry indicates the return of confidence in capital outlay. Aeroplanes might run on avgas or Jet-A1, but the industry itself runs on money. That money funds new research and innovation that translates into new technology, and therefore new levels of capability and safety. That encourages upgrades on old technology that ensure the best of the GA fleet is state-of-the-art and remains relevant to both the GA community and the wider public. We should all take heart from the results of last year and hope for further improvement in 2022.

May your gauges always be in the green,



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