– Steve Hitchen

When I first got started writing about aeroplanes, I knew how important it would be to be able to take my own photos. I had the camera, but did I have the skill? The best way to take great shots is to emulate the best. When it came to air-to-air photos, I got my inspiration from the work of two men: Rob Fox and Glenn Alderton. My aspiration was (still is!) to be able to take shots as good as theirs. When it came to ground images and environmental portraits, I added another name: Mark Smith. As a Herald-Sun photographer, Mark's skill with imaginative structure and lighting set me a target that I have never even come close to reaching. Sadly, Mark was killed in a pedestrian accident near his home on Tuesday evening, leaving a large hole in the aviation journalism community. Mark had also turned his hand to writing, first as an occasional contributor to Australian Flying, then as editor of Australian Pilot and later Sport Pilot. His work with the pen in the beginning was, to be frank, unexciting, but over the years it got incrementally better as he worked harder at the craft. It was a credit to his determination to produce the best work he could. A passionate character that always spoke up for general aviation, he could at times be awkward to work with as he held his ground on a position and a phone call could come your way at any time of the night. It was all a part of who he was and the station in life he strove for. You always knew where you stood with Mark Smith. My condolences go to Michelle and the rest of his family.

The Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2019 is back with the House of Reps. It got a good run in the Senate this week, with the Greens pushing the hairy old barrow of interfering with aviation safety as they sought to send the bill to a committee. The red seats mostly didn't agree. Victorian Senator Janet Rice put forward the theory that general aviation needs to be looked after, but we shouldn't be asking CASA to do it; rather, it was the job of parliament. Experience has taught me that fixing general aviation is not what parliaments do. Parliaments are there to bandy about legislation, not to actually do anything; that's the theoretical role of governments. And it is this government's stated position (supported by the ALP) that safety still gets the priority over the economics of regulation. Taking that into account, it's still very hard to see how amending the Act will help GA at all. Let me reinforce that the need to consider cost is already in a legislative document: the Statement of Expectations. If that is not being properly enforced, what confidence can we have that the provisions of the Act will be enforced?

A classic case emerged this week with CASA grounding all Airvan 8s after the parachuting accident in Sweden. The Swedish authorities expressed concerns that the aircraft may have broken up in the air, leading CASA to ground all GA8s for 15 days as a precaution. They lifted the ban five days later (kudos to them), but at what cost? When asked why they felt it was paramount to ground the GA8s when a recent spate of in-flight break-ups with C210s didn't draw that reaction, I was told "the difference is there is specific information available for the Cessna. At this stage there is only the general observation that the Airvan may have suffered an inflight failure." So we've grounded the aircraft type and caused economic strain based on a "general observation". Another general observation would show that in-flight break-ups are more likely to be caused by ageing fatigue, over-loading or misuse of the controls. The oldest Airvan 8 in the world has just turned 20; not old in a fleet with an average age nearing 40 and unlikely to be suffering from fatigue. Rapid elimination means that if the Swedish Airvan did break up in the air it is most likely an over-stress situation, something not likely to have an impact on every other GA8 in the world. With only one incident on the cards, what was it that made CASA think there was an issue that was an immediate threat to safety? It doesn't matter ... with safety as their priority, they may as well ground them all because the cost to the industry is of secondary concern to the regulator.

May your gauges always be in the green.


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