– Steve Hitchen
We finally have answer in writing about whether or not the government's $715 million aviation largesse included general aviation. It took nearly two weeks to find out, but charter and aerial ag will benefit. The actual value is still a mystery because it's based on variable costs; the more activity levels drop the less money saved. If you're a tourist operator who has no customers, you won't be flying, therefore not burning fuel and your excise rebate is approximately nothing. The government has recognised this in the regional airlines package, setting aside $100 million to inject directly into airlines. That is the sort of thing that is needed for charter companies and tourist operators: cash not cuts. Excise rebates and waivers from Airservices fees will free-up money to help with fixed costs, if flying continues. If flying ceases, the package actually diminshes to nothing. Paradoxically, the more a company gets in financial strife, the less and less the value of the rebates and waivers, at just the time when help is needed the most.
And that is a question that continues to vex flying schools all around Australia. Do we shut our doors or keep flying? Some schools made an early call to close because social distancing is impossible in the cockpit of C172 and a laughable concept inside most LSAs. Dual flying stopped at seveal schools to rescue instructors from the risk of infection. However, flight training can be considered education, especially if you're doing a CPL and AOPA Australia has advice from the Federal Government that flight training can continue for the time being. Other schools have stayed open, appearing to continue on as if COVID-19 was nothing more than a novel by Robin Cook. Measures are taken in some places, like disinfecting aircraft after every flight and hand sanitiser on the desks. They're all simple, smart measures. When it comes to private flying, the issue is less clear. Private, solo flight is a great social distancer! Can you be further away from any other person than cruising alone at 8500 feet? We can keep 1.5 km away from others, not a measly 1.5 m! However, unless you live at the airport, the journey to the aeroplane is problematic. In a country that just fined a bloke for eating a kebab on a park bench, reasonable excuses for being outside your home are very limited and the police are unlikey to consider a need to play aeries a reasonable excuse. Certainly it's not listed among the "big four" reasons to stray from home. Then there is the simple question of ethics. Should we just stay home as urged by the medicos that man the front lines of this war? Conversely do we go out and support the flying schools that need us to right now? Everyone, it seems, has their own answer.
CASA this week continued their industry support package with more exemptions, this time for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies. They've also flagged a potential extension of six months on the time limit for sitting exams for CPL, ATPL and AME. Every little bit helps, and there is so much that CASA can do. These exemptions stand to make a real difference to our industry in the most challenging environment that we've ever faced. Regarded most of the year round as the Fortress of Evil, CASA is instead displaying an understanding of the sorts of things needed to relieve the burden. Maybe now they will also understand how much of a burden a lot of this regulation always was. Keep going, CASA, the job you are doing now is vital to the survival of our industry.
In a piece of bold optimism, the Experimental Aircraft Association said this week that they are still planning for Airventure 2020 at Oshkosh to go ahead on 20 July. Most of Australia's air shows have been postponed to at least the southern Spring and others put back by a full 12 months. It's gutsy of the EAA to forge ahead given the state of play in the USA, but unless international travel can return to normal, I suspect Oshkosh this year will be a mere shadow of its usual self. That presumes that it goes ahead at all. I wouldn't be booking tickets just yet.
Have you had a good look at the Australian Flying Easter subscription special? We're offering up four issues of Australia's best GA mag for only $24.00. I'll do the maths for you; that's a 40% saving off the normal price. At a time when wallets are getting tighter, this is a fantastic bargain. Get on board at Great Magazines and have very good Easter indeed! Despite the challenging times, Australian Flying is still up and about, social distancing ourselves at our desk chasing down really good stories that you'll read about in upcoming issues. We do that for every issue, but now you get it all at 40% off!
When the world goes through international upheavals such as it is at the moment, everything changes. As human beings, we generally like to change, but hate to have change forced upon us ... we're fickle things. The best we can do is limit forced changes, but they are inevitable. Here at Australian Flying, we're having to make a change to ride out the storm as best we can and make sure we can still present the best product for our readers. This change is to the newsletter and this column. Beginning today, the Friday E-newsletter and The Last Minute Hitch will be going to a fortnightly cycle. The next E-news will appear on Friday 17 April. We'll still be putting up news ever time it breaks and we'll spread the word via our Facebook page when something new goes up, so you can still maintain touch in the off weeks. If you don't follow us on Facebook, go to the Australian Flying page now and connect. Of course, we'll still be there every second Friday and I will still have things to say about what's happening, so the change is a small one that stands to make a large impact. When the time comes, we'll be ready to resume our normal services.
May your gauges always test negative for COVID-19,