– Steve Hitchen
The feedback from AirVenture 2019 inevitably contained one sentiment common to just about everyone I spoke to: heartbreak. Events like these consume a lot of time and emotion from the organisers and when the weather gods express their displeasure it's absolutely gut-wrenching. The infamous dust storm on the Saturday was a real crowd-killer as you would expect, but even as the blue skies returned on the Sunday, the attendance from outside Parkes was not as high as the organisers would have hoped. Yes, it was heartbreaking to that extent, and one other: the fact that both this show and Ausfly are constant reminders of the destructive rift in the general aviation community. People are at their wits end with the finger-pointing and constant bickering between AOPA Australia and RAAus that is causing the split. The words "fed up" are starting to be spat back at me whenever I bring up the subject, and fair enough too! This is now at the point where two groups who constantly spout how they are all for promoting general aviation are actually causing a lot of damage en route. It has created an environment of antagonism that just has no place in GA, and the reality is that the ongoing war is not reflective of the true wishes of the majority of people within the GA community. Both AirVenture and Ausfly will continue to struggle as long as they are symbols of this rift and force aviators to choose between one or the other. It's time for one big GA fly-in, preferably organised by a party completely independent of either of the current antagonists.
Cirrus' new TRAC series of aircraft is, I believe, an indication that major manufacturers now understand they have made their base offerings too sophisticated and expensive to meet the demands of flying schools. This first showed up last year when Piper announced the Piper 100, which is a stripped-down Cherokee priced below the level of the Archer III. The idea of these specialst trainers based on existing airframes is to reduce the amount that academies are being asked to invest in fleet replacement, whilst still delivering them an aeroplane that meets their needs. This philosophy is also driving the marketing behind the Vulcanair V1.0. Of course there is a big name missing the circus at the moment: Cessna. With a C172S coming in around $A500K, Textron is placing a lot of faith in brand loyalty. How long they are prepared to keep their chips on that number remains to be seen; the delivery figures are not exactly fanfare material with the Q2 returns down 41% on the same period last year. Will Textron chip in with a pared-down Skyhawk? The problem with that is the risk of it being seen to be a "me too" product; a position that Cessna is not generally known for. I do expect movement from Wichita on this, but who knows when it will happen.
Texas Aircraft's Colt looks like an LSA likely to turn a few heads. It's a sweet looking machine and the book figures tell us that it should have a bit of toe to it as well. There aren't a lot of LSAs coming out of the USA (quick, close your eyes and name one US-designed and built LSA), so this really is untested ground for Texas Aircraft. Not even Cessna and Piper were going to build their ill-fated LSAs in the US. Can it compete with the imported, largely composite machines flocking to America in droves? On their side is good old American parochialism, which over the years has done a lot for the general aviation industry in the US. But they can't rely on that too much, remember the C162 Skycatcher? The aircraft will have to perform and hold its own as an aeroplane first and foremost. If you have a good look around the aircraft, it seems all the boxes are ticked, so if this aeroplane can't hold its own in the market, it would be pretty fair to suggest that no home-grown US LSA ever will.
Pens at the ready, airport operators? According to the Department of Infrastructure's last update, the regional airport grant scheme is supposed to be available from Monday onward. Once open, it is expected to spill $100 million into improving our airports. The scheme appears to have tripped over some bureaucratic speed humps, which is why the 1 July initial date passed without fanfare or whisper. Hopefully that will be settled and we'll get the green light on Monday.
May your gauges always be in the green,