– Steve Hitchen
Predictions of a hung parliament have fallen short of accurate. With the ALP creeping inexorably towards a slim majority, the currency of the crossbench is being devalued with each seat that turns red. That almost guarantees the aviation community a new white paper. When I rang around the industry this week, I was surprised to find that many advocates and lobbyists weren't as concerned about that as I was ... with conditions. The conditions were consistent: a white paper was good for the long term, but not for the short term. Without immediate action to fix the broken things now, a white paper will be rooted in ground too unstable to sustain growth. That puts the ALP in a precarious position; the only way they can fix things in time for their policy to have any meaning is to adopt the policy of the mob that were just shown the door; never a palatable thing in politics. When the new minister is announced (put your money on Catherine King), one of the first faces he/she should see is that of a GA community desperate and determined for reforms, advocating the General Aviation Advisory Network (GAAN) strategy and the CASA workplan as the best platform to launch reforms and the most solid foundation for the long-term vision articulated in their white paper.
Some coal-face reforms that may be protected from political ambition are those under construction at CASA. Important changes like CASR Part 43 on GA maintenance and Part 67 on medicals are well advanced and, in general terms, enjoy the support of the regulator. These two reforms alone are pointers that the wind of change are starting to blow away some very stubborn cobwebs from the halls of Aviation House. This week, AOPA Australia CEO Ben Morgan expressed a great deal of optimism that CASA has finally got the message, thanks, in no small part, to the vision and determination of CASA CEO Pip Spence and Chairman Mark Binskin. And you know if AOPA Australia believes that change is upon us, then it is time for the rest of the GA community to start believing it too. This is not the first time I have expressed a belief that the GA community is so jaded it can't accept that real change might actually happen. But it looks like that change will happen within the CASR system not, as so many have demanded, by chucking out the whole lot and substituting the FARs. Although many will perpetuate the quest for that holy grail, it's time to change strategy to one that works. We are in a position where people within the CASA executive are starting see the benefits of reform; now is most certainly not the time to put them in a position where all we will accept is something they can't give.
As noted above, CASR Part 67 is currently at the discussion paper (DP) stage. This is the ruleset that dicates what medical standards are needed for what categories of licence and aircraft operation. The keystone for private GA in this is the chance that self-declared medicals for PPLs will be permitted. This is effectively the same system that recreational pilots have been operating under for some years and has been coveted by aviation advocates for just as long. This is not set in stone; there are forces in Canberra that are arrayed against it. What we need is for the feedback to the DP to overwhelmingly reflect the wishes of the people who stand to gain the most: PPLs. Too often with consultation (and there has been a bit of late) the feedback to CASA is often left to advocate groups, associations and those that have an opinion on everything. It is way too important for this to be repeated in the case of CASR 67. This time, PPLs need to fire-up their fingers and get submissions in that sway the feedback in such a way that the resulting Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) includes the Class 5 medical standard for all private operations. The forces against it are strong and there are no pure PPLs in the Technical Working Group. Consequently, if self-declared medicals are to carry the day, all hands need to come to the wheel. There is no surer way for the naysayers to get their way than if CASA believes the GA community doesn't really care.
May your gauges always be in the green,