– Steve Hitchen
When you write anything for public eyes you have to accept that there will be times that people won't like what you've said. If you're not prepared to take the brickbats then you're best to pack up your Olivetti, grab your Bogart hat and head out the door. This happens to me regularly and I've developed a strategy: before doing anything, ask yourself if the person is right. I got a call this week that amounted to respectful criticism of my LMH last week in which I called AirVenture Australia "RAAus-motivated." The caller said they'd had enough of people talking about the rift in GA and language like that was only making the divide larger and doing nothing toward healing wounds. So, time to roll out the strategy: was the caller right? Does talking about it only make it worse? Too much talking is often the by-product of inaction. Nothing happens so we try to use discussion to inject energy into the issue. Once the ball is rolling, we re-focus ourselves on the next problem at hand and use conversation to put energy into that argument. So far, I'm not seeing much action on healing the rift within general aviation and people are still coming to me wanting to talk about it; it was one of the prime topics at Ausfly. But I am not prepared to label the caller as "wrong"; there is merit in the argument. However, actions speak louder than words, so if we just did something concrete about uniting the industry the talk would fade away naturally.
I don't remember anyone in parliament articulating the CASA problem so comprehensively as Senator Susan McDonald did last week. In an eight-minute speech, she said CASA was extraordinarily disconnected from reality, that it doesn't display a desire to act on collaboration or consultation, imposes regulation for the sake of it and imposes regulation that is costly, unreasonable and seeks to strangle aviation. It was cathartic to hear it expressed in the senate in terms that all of aviation can relate to. And McDonald is clearly prepared to back up her words, crossing the floor against the wishes of the Coalition she serves to side with the independents as they tried to have CASA's community service flight regulations disallowed. McDonald looks prepared to put her feet where her mouth is. The question all of this has brought to mind is "what now?" OK, we've a new superhero in the senate, but being a Nationals senator it's her boss who's in charge of CASA and probably arranged for the bipartisan support that sunk the disallowance in the first place. Is Senator McDonald prepared to march into the minister's office, take off her slipper and smack it up and down on his desk in a very Khrushchevian way? That's not likely to happen and could actually be counter-productive. Another option might be to start agitating for more inquiries; also pointless given that so many of them have been ignored or failed to have the desired impact. For all the will of Senators like McDonald and Patrick, the brick wall built by a lack of political will may be too high to climb over and too strong to break through, leaving a long and winding road around the wall as the only path ahead. We can only hope that general aviation has the endurance to make the journey.
Last night I attended a forum on flight training organised by the Australian Division of the Royal Aeronautical Society, which had all the levity of funeral. Speaker after speaker outlined problems insurmountable that have placed the flight training industry in the Catch 22 position of being unable to train enough pilots to fill a growing demand and the industry subsequently hitting a downward slide to oblivion. It's not for a lack of schools, or even government money (there's plenty of that being thrown at students), but an arterial blockage in the instructor pipeline. The voracious appetites of the airlines have them gobbling up both newly-qualified CPLs, ATPLs and the people who taught them, leaving so very few to teach, and those that do are at the inexperienced end of the spectrum, not the end with thousands of hours. Compounding that is that the new Part 61 rules require instructors to have separate approvals for teaching most flight activities and endorsements, which costs money that instructors don't have because they're paid so badly. Although the forum didn't result in any official position of the RAeS, there were virtually no speakers who had answers. It doesn't bode well for the years ahead, and there is a very real possibility that Australia, rather than tapping into overseas sources of students, will actually have to export CPL candidates because there'll be no-one left to teach in this country.
Tomorrow is one of the metaphorical bright days on the general aviation calendar: Funflight. All over the country pilots will be giving up their time and money to give underprivileged and sick children what could literally be the ride of their lifetime. When the general aviation community puts in like this it makes me proud to be a part. Hundreds of children will be smiling broadly tomorrow because of us, and that's something we can treasure. That's if the weather co-operates of course! South of the Murray River the atmosphere is building to something Wagnerian, which it is threatening to visit on the southern states tomorrow and Sunday. We can hope only for enough breaks in the showers and overcast to at least create some smiles even if we can't run the full program of flights. Happy flying to all Funflighters out there.
May your gauges always be in the green,