– Steve Hitchen
Politics is unavoidable when there are politicians involved and it seems there are always politicians involved. With the Eden-Monaro by-election coming up on 4 July, it was inevitable that funding for upgrades at Merimbula and Tumut airports would be put in a barrel with "pork" written on the outside. The only way to dodge that accusation would be to deliberately can the projects until Round 2 of the Regional Airports Program. That would be quite a crime. Those two airports were fundamental to bushfire operations last Summer and they need to be maintained to ensure they are safe for firefighting and aeromedical ops into the future. The same goes for several other airports on the grant list like Orbost, Corryong, Benambra and Stawell. Had it not been for these airports, dealing with bushfires would be almost impossble. They were there when the people of Australia needed them to be there, which is something the general public so often loses sight of in less threatening times. If you have a look at the grant list, you'll find other airports that are vital to our ability to combat bushfires, and there are hundreds of others not approved that are part of the critical regional aviation infrastructure that is the backbone of our civil defence response. Bring on Round 2, by-elections or not.
Nailing down the exact impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on GA in Australia has been like taking a photo of a UFO: there's definitely something there, but the picture is too blurry so you can't see exactly what. Australian Flying's survey didn't make anything clearer. Respondents reported with some consistency that flying hours were down about 70%. With income loss of that level, there should be massive job losses and lights turned out permanently at many flying schools. Although that is true in some cases, the situation doesn't seem to be approaching critical mass ... yet. Now that private aviation is an officially-sanctioned activity again, could it be that we've avoided a complete disaster? Cash should be flowing back into flying schools, fuel suppliers and every other operation that draws an income from GA; a blood transfusion just before the patient became anemic. But the spectre of September rises. In that month we will finally get a good picture of where we're at. We may not like the vision we are presented with, but at least it will be more concrete than what we have now. Respondents to our survey were weakly-optimistic that GA would recover to previous levels eventually, a direct result of the uncertainty before us and the precarious position of the wider Australian economy. If that economy tanks further, it may be for GA a bleak September indeed.
When the AAHOF presser came out announcing that Deb Lawrie was to be one of three people inducted into the hall of fame this year I was very surprised ... that it has taken this long. Lawrie has been a standard bearer for women in aviation ever since she took toweled-up Reg Ansett in court over his stubborn refusal to employ women as pilots. Since then, her career has been one long demonstration not only of how far women can go, but also what it takes to get there. But utimately, it's not her gender that counted most in her career, but her skill as a pilot and some pretty sharp decision-making ability. You don't get to her level in aviation without the right stuff to do the job as evidenced by the debris of many broken hearts that litter the career path to an airline left seat. What Deb Lawrie did in 1980 was fight for the opportunity to prove that women could make the cut, then spent the next few decades proving how right she was. AAHOF induction is a just reward: she is truly a living legend of aviation in Australia. Congratulations are also due to Basil South Brown and John Weymouth for their inductions and to AHIA and AAAA for the Southern Cross Award.
Gotta love the courage of Diamond taking on the Cirrus SR22. Cessna tried to do it with the TTx and that all ended in tears. The DA50 has the advantage of being a five-seater and, in some areas, the diesel engine may be more attractive than the avgas-powered motor in the Cirrus. But is that enough? Cirrus has generated staunch brand loyalty since the turn of the century and the DA50 is going to have to overcome that as well as the performance and capability of the aeroplane itself. Taking on Cirrus was always going to be a Herculean task no matter who did it. Putting aside the market challenges, the DA50 looks to me like one hell of an aeroplane! My experience with anything Diamond tells me that it will be real pilots' machine that handles like a Porsche in the air and will have the ride and comfort of a Mercedes. International travel restrictions have torpedoed any plans of getting to Austria to beg for a test flight, so we'll have to wait and hope that we get one in Australia soon.
May your gauges always be in the green,