– Steve Hitchen
I am not sure CASA coming out and defending itself against accusations of having an anti-GA agenda is a brilliant tactic; they'd be better off just getting on with the job. This week acting CEO Graeme Crawford went there again, and even though the sentiments might be valid, doing so has drawn even more derision. The reason is that the industry still remembers historical instances that could be explained away only by an anti-GA agenda or simply a lack of expertise. Many of these cases remain unresolved through lack of acknowledgment that CASA's treatment of good people was harsh at best and devious at worst. No words are ever going to substitute for corrective action, and a simple statement "No, we're really goodfellas" is tantamount to sticking a finger in a wound yet to heal. The other issue is that ultimately CASA says something that is either inaccurate or causes more wounds. In this case, the newsletter said "We use available aviation sector information such as accident and incident data, surveillance findings and sector risk profiles to develop informed solutions." It's hard to accept that as accurate in the light of the new fuel rules that will apply from November. Not only has CASA not shown their working out on this, but the solution seems to create more problems than it addresses, which hints at guesswork. And if CASA really operated using sector information, they couldn't possibly have come up with the legendary debacle known as CASR Part 61. With all this in hand, the general aviation community is not listening anymore, but it is watching. Words aren't worth actions, and actions are what GA is looking for. There are signs that CASA is starting to take note of the damage its policies have caused in the past, but there's a long way to go yet. We need to get into a position where the GA community tells CASA they're goodfellas, not the other way around.
The industry-led skills and training report has been handed to the minister, who extended it a warm welcome, but not a lot else. Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack has said that training is vital and he's written to the Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham to commend the report. That's good, and probably follows protocol, but what we really need McCormack to do is go into Birmingham's office, take off his shoe and start thumping it on the desk demanding immediate action. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport is also the Deputy Prime Minister, so surely he has the clout to concrete changes to improve the situation. After all the work the GA industry has put into making sure each and every issue plaguing the industry was put under the nose of the minister, it would be devastating if the government still does nothing.
And the report itself shows an aviation training system in complete disarray; misaligned with requirements and failing in so many aspects. Demand for both properly trained and qualified pilots and engineers is outstripping supply by a very long way, so far that the airlines themselves are going into self-protection mode. Any situation where demand exceeds supply should be a guarantee of the industry fixing itself through new entrants and expanding existing players, but entry costs, complex regulations, lack of instructors and ongoing costs of compliance are actually seeing the opposite happen: schools are shutting their doors. How is this possible? With the government nowadays offering student loans to get people through degree courses in Part 142 schools, we should have streams of new CPLs coming on line and there should be no shortage. Obviously that's not the case, and the reason is a very complex one. As I see it, the decline of the GA sector has killed the airlines' fallback plans. Traditionally, the airlines took GA pilots with lots of MECIR time on Navajos, Chieftains and C402s that translated nicely into experience the airlines could use. With those aircraft being obsoleted largely by the Cessna Caravan, the airlines are struggling to find the right type of pilot in the GA industry. That sends the airlines back to the academies, which seem to be unable to supply the airlines with the right type of person. Fun fact: in the period 2009-2017 the number of aviation students using government loans rose systematically. The number of licences issued did not.* Is this an indicator that students are getting started, but are dropping out before they are qualified? It would be very interesting to get the stats on how many starters at degree level actually make it through to an airline seat.
There seems to be a thawing in the frosty attitude many regional councils have traditionally taken to general aviation. Bathurst airport looked to be the target of increased fees and charges this week, but intervention from the users and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has cause the council to take a second look. Add to that news that Bourke shire is rethinking their plan to close three airstrips and both Orange and Armidale have invited the industry to discussions on the future of their airports. Only a few months ago, Wagga Wagga was touting new charges there as well, which were seen off by the industry. Although we can't declare victory just yet, these are all positives and point strongly to the advantages of co-operation between the industry and willing local councils. The issue remains the unwilling local councils who are blinkered in their approach to aviation and can see airports only as liabilities rather than assets.
May your gauges always be in the green,
*Australian Industry Standards, Aviation Workforce Skills Study, March 2017, p7