– Steve Hitchen
I lie awake tonight
It's weight upon my chest
Smell of the well
Upon the unwell
Voice from the dark water
I don't recognise it
There's a thing that I must do
A question I should ask
Who are you, why do you come for me?
Becoming Bryn - Augie March. Lyrics Glenn Richards.
There are probably lots of people losing sleep in aviation these days, and many of them with a weight upon their chest. They are the small charter operators who have mortgaged their homes to keep their companies afloat, and the weight is CASR Part 135. In its extant form, Part 135 has the potential to end many people's livelihoods and take away their homes. This is mooted regulation that will force charter operators to adopt rules designed for heavy commercial regular public transport. CASA's reasoning is that passengers in charter aeroplanes have the right to expect the same levels of safety as they get when they fly heavy RPT. There is one fundamental problem with that: the charter industry simply cannot comply and many operators may be forced out of business. Frightening estimates are that of the 800 or so charter AOCs in Australia, maybe 100 will survive the new regulations. Part 135 is being termed "coffin regulation", in that it may be the final nail before the GA industry is lowered into cold ground. As it stands, 135 could demand charter pilots undergo route checks before they can fly a customer home to their outback station, pilots can't call ahead to check the actual weather at the destination (unauthorised source of weather information). These are just two of what charter operators are saying are many imbedded unintended consequences of this regulation. Despondency from the charter industry stems from a feeling that all this is a fait accompli; that consultation is meaningless because CASA is hell-bent on forcing this through regardless of consequence or feedback. In that sense, are the "unintended consequences" really unintended? The pervading feeling of frustration and helplessness has many wondering what CASA's intention really is. They must know the damage this will cause, they must know that the industry cannot comply. In that sense, small charter operators have the right to go to CASA and ask "Who are you, why do you come for me?"
Although well-meant and a hopeless cause worth fighting for, AOPA Australia's letter to CASA demanding parity with RAAus on ASICs is a bit of a mis-fire. Firstly, CASA's only involvement with the ASIC is to be an issuing body; they aren't the regulatory body that controls the ASIC. As a result, I suspect both CASA and the minister will simply reply by saying they'll pass the letter on to the relevant people: the Department of Home Affairs. Secondly, RPL and PPL holders do not need an ASIC to fly as AOPA stated. An ASIC is ground-based, but CASA will accept an ASIC as a security check in lieu of an Aviation ID, or AVID. Pilots must have one or the other. It is true that RAAus pilots need no security checks at all to fly, and this is where the lack of parity lies. Why is a PPL a security risk when an RPC is not? The planes are regularly the same and so are the operations. AOPA's demand for a level playing field is valid, but perhaps we are all forgetting that there is more than one way to level a playing field: you can build up the low side or you can bulldoze down the high side. Governments are not great builders of things, so their method of satisfying the AOPA demand (should they choose to) will likely be to impose restrictions on RAAus rather than to relax those on GA. Sir, your level playing field as requested! This also gels with the old political philosophy of never, ever relaxing aviation regulations when the opposition are likely to throw it in your face from the other side of the House of Reps. It's easier and more expedient to increase controls rather than relax them, and gives no succor to the enemy in opposition.
And we're back on the Multicom issue, this time perhaps more confused than before. What is CASA's stance on which frequency we should be using at uncharted airfields? To the bulk of the GA community, CASA made a definitive statement in April that they would propose recommending the Multicom 126.7 at these airfields, but now, after all the support the proposal got, they are saying that the area frequency is now their preferred option. Backflip? No, it's not a backflip as I see it. CASA never said they would recommend 126.7, and the proposal doesn't state that. What CASA was actually proposing was that pilots remain on the area frequency, but can switch to 126.7 once they are established in the circuit, which I think they have defined as 3 nm ... and not so much as a mile sooner. So what's the worst case here? It means someone in the circuit has no notice whatsoever of an inbound because that inbound is on a different frequency until they are within 3 nm. Given that aircraft can join on base, a sudden call would scare the ERSA right out of anyone coming along downwind.I cannot believe that the GA industry would have support the proposal to the extent they did had they really understood what it meant. There is only one safe way to do this, and that's how we do it if the airfield is marked: on the circuit frequency at the 10-mile mark and stay there until shut-down. It seems that our regulator is more scared of conflict outside the circuit area of an uncontrolled airfield that they are inside the circuit area. Is this contrary to previous advice? Go back through history and be the judge yourself. And whilst you're there, ponder if it was worth five years of bickering and costly consultation over what frequency to be on at an airfield where you don't even have to carry a radio anyway.
The general aviation industry has been tearfully urging CASA to adopt US regulations for years, so there's no great revelation that feedback to the new GA maintenance regs has nominated the Federal Aviation Regulations as the ones to copy-and-paste for use in Australia. The intent is to simplify and clarify the rules around maintaining small GA planes, and the project has in-principle support from AMROBA, the umbrella assocation for the confused and frustrated maintenance, repair and overhaul community in Australia. But the question being asked at the moment is: will this be a copy-and-paste of the FARs, or will the imported rules be "Australianised" before they get signed in to law? That is a process by which the regulator beats them into a shape that imposes higher costs and greater restrictions, which has the impact of neutering the intent to simplify. I suppose we don't want to put the pressure on CASA, but I expect that the GA community will be watching this project for signs that CASA has changed for the better, and that they earned the increased approval ratiing the last Colmar Brunton survey reported.
May your gauges always be in the green,