– Steve Hitchen
What can you say about the Port Phillip Bay Coastal Route amendments without sounding like the king of cynics? From deep inside Aviation House, a non-consulted amendment was made to reverse the eastbound and westbound altitudes. This had the potential to create a collision situation if it was not communicated well ... but in fact, other than changing the note on the Moorabbin insert on the VTC, it wasn't communicated at all! The justification, we are told, was because of the need to comply with the minimum gliding distance to land. Did not someone, somewhere twig that the distance to the shore is the same no matter which way the aircraft is flying? So we have an unjustifed change that was dangerous and not communicated. It is frustrating when CASA spends so much education time on rule changes that are largely irrelevant to genuine safety (new fuel regs!) and then creates a serious safety issue off their own bat and stays silent in the corner. The only shining light here is that CASA did act fast when the RAPACs pointed out that their new altitudes contravened the hemispherical cruising levels. They've reversed their original decision, but haven't withdrawn the charts, which means until May we have to operate with incorrect information on the charts. Failure to consult the RAPACs, failure to consult the regs, failure to communicate, creation of a dangerous situation ... not a lot went right, and it worries me that it got as far as it did without someone running up a red flag.
Exploring the movement figures at the capital city Class D towers has been a very interesting exercise, particularly when they run contrary to anecdotal evidence. The numbers show an overall increase of 8.2% since 2014-15 at the same time when people in the industry are talking about the large GA airports being "ghost towns". Compared to the halcyon days of the 1970s and early 1980s, the ex-GAAP airports do seem to have tumbleweeds on their taxiways. Who remembers the years when Bankstown would regularly push or break the 300,000 movements mark, and Moorabbin had a 17/35 centre because it needed it? The figures are trending up, but it would be a very optimistic seer to predict that we will ever get back to those levels. There is potential for more growth from the rise of aviation academies, but in many cases that can serve to shut-out the smaller schools and private operators that served as the foundation for what were once called Secondary Airports, then GAAP airports and now Class D towers. Privatisation has also driven out the traditional customer base, with runway closures, non-aviation development, unfriendly hangar leases and new charges changing the atmospheres at these airports and alienating large numbers of passionate aviators. That is unlikely to be reversed, meaning significant growth for the capital city GA airports has to come from the mass movements promised by academies. And that won't impress the local residents who actually want to see movements decrease to nothing rather than continue rising.
It was only a matter of time before CASA clamped down on sharing AOCs. They have been making unhappy sounds about the practice for years because, in their view, remote oversight is really no oversight. The regulations and the 2006 ruling are very clear: unless both operators are running the same management systems and procedures then they can't be under the one AOC. Fair enough, but has anyone stopped to consider why the practice rose in the first place, and why it has continued for so long after CASA issued such a definitive ruling? Trying to stay afloat in the current GA environment is beyond difficult and people have told me before confidentially that the only way it can be done is to break a few regulations along the way. If there's truth behind those sentiments, then there's plenty wrong with the regulatory environment that we've got. Yes, there are those that seek to share AOCs because they simply want to flaunt the rules, but many of them are doing it because they want to continue in business; there is no other way to stay in the game. So whilst I won't advocate AOC-sharing as a way to break the rules, I will advocate examining why it happens and putting in place equitable solutions to help aviation companies resist being regulated into dust. When the only way to stay in a system is to cheat the system then the system is not working.
May your gauges always be in the green,