– Steve Hitchen
The cynics have screwed up their noses to the minister over his Statement of Expectations to CASA. It's not that the SoE contains anything seriously inflamatory, its more that people in the GA community are so jaded they can't lift their noses to the winds of change anymore. They don't deserve to be pilloried for that any more than a solider should be condemned for having battle fatigue. Barnaby Joyce's SoE does contain some very hackneyed, warmth-giving phrases that too often in the past haven't made it past the status of being a statement, which is cause for alarm to many in the industry. But the SoE also contains some indicators that the Federal Government has an agenda to reform and revitalise GA should they be returned to power. Sorry about the italics ... but the point needs to be understood. Since he returned to the portfolio, Joyce has done things that no minister before him would dare put their fingerprints on. Firstly, he released the advice he'd been given in the form of the GAAN strategy. Secondly, he issued the Aviation Recovery Framework that smelt a lot like that GAAN paper and now has woven some of that strategy into the threads of his SoE to CASA. Statement of Expectations is a rather grandiose title that conjours thoughts of Barnaby storming into the corner office of Aviation House, slapping it down on Pip Spence's desk and exclaiming "How do you like them apples!", but the SoE is actually more like a negotiated agreement between the minister and CASA that is formalised as legislation. CASA will have already agreed to implement the minister's expectations before the letter was issued.
For example, it is handy that the minister expects CASA to create a workplan to relieve the burden on GA, because CASA aleady said they were doing that in their response to the Aviation Recovery Framework. Same goes for the expectation that something will be done to improve access to training in regional and remote areas: CASA had that in their response before the minister listed it an expectation in the SoE. So that leads us to the obvious question: who's driving the reform bus, the government or CASA? The jaded cynics can believe naught except that no-one is driving anything, but I see it differently and intelligence out of Canberra supports the position that the hands on the wheel belong to both the minister and Pip Spence. My optimism is shared among the lobbyists and activists who make up a very silent majority that is in close contact with decision-makers. What I do share with the cynics is doubt about the timing of this sudden urge to reform. The minister had demanded CASA present to him the above-mentioned workplan by 1 May ... only a couple of weeks or so before the most likely date of the Federal Election. That will enable the government to use the plan as a lure to catch unsuspecting voters. I also have to question why the minister is doing this all before the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport tables the final report into its inquiry into the GA industry on 17 March. That report is likely to demand the very reforms and actions that the Aviation Recovery Framework has outlined, meaning the government can defuse the report by saying they already have some of the issues in hand. All of this may be true, but we made more progress on GA reform in 2021 than any other 12-month period of the last 10 years, so right now we need to take it no matter which horses mouth it comes from.
For the time being we are without Category D TAFs. COVID has struck the Bureau of Meteorology and consequently some services have been torpedoed for the time being. Of course, Category D TAFs are the ones that general aviation uses the most. That could be a spanner in the works for some IFR pilots who will now have to come up with alternatives because the rules surrounding the availability of TAFs haven't changed. Emergency services will still have access to TAFs, but only on request. There are many other resources out there, such as AWIS and the GAFs, that we can use to stay safe until the Category D TAFs come back on line again.
Congratulations to NSW flying instructor Greg Davies, who landed an OAM in the Australia Day honours list. Davies is a stalwart of the GA community in the Sydney basin and by all accounts thoroughly deserves this recognition. At the same time, we should recognise also the OAM of the seemingly tireless Merridy Thompson, who scored her OAM for services to youth through the Australian Air Force Cadets. Well done both of you; aviation in Australia needs more like you.
May your gauges always be in the green,