• Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)
    Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)

Steve Hitchen

We're publishing on Monday this week because I took some time off last Friday to attended a wedding up country. It has been on the cards since ... well, you know how long it takes to organise a wedding nowadays. We elected to get the e-News out today rather than rush out something last Thursday. So, of course, that would be the week where absolutely everything imaginable went down, leaving me pedaling like a mad cyclist to catch up. Let's take everything one piece at a time.

The RRAT committee hit their deadline with the interim report on the senate inquiry into the GA industry. The recommendations within it address a lot of long-term ailments that have inflicted GA. From CASA's culture to the need to fix training pathways and specific bits of regulation, the reports recommendations, if adopted in a meaningful way, could change the fortunes of everyone in general aviation in the next few years. But before we get over-excited, let's remember that this is a starting point on a very long road; a road that not everyone in power wants GA to take. Whilst my fingers want to type words of effusive optimism, my brain keeps telling me to remember the ASRR of 2014. That had just as much potential, but people who didn't want to make change just stymied it until it became a painful memory of what could have been. The senators aren't finished yet; there's another six months work to be done, but the interim report can be taken as a harbinger of the main themes of the firnal report. That being so, the GA industry will be devastated if the bureaucratic stonewallers are once again permitted to reduce all this work to a smart document that lives on the smart document shelf alongside the ASRR report and is never used in anger.

ALP Shadow Minister Catherine King has released a statement of policy stating with much fanfare that, if they are elected to government, they will create another aviation white paper. Rather than being progressive policy, this is seen as just a throw-back to the White Paper of the last ALP stint in power; perhaps a needs to hang on grimly to a failed exercise that they are desperate to make work. The ALP policy has two major failings: the last White Paper is still thought of by everyone outside the ALP as being junk, and any future White Paper program would once again call for industry input at a time when people have had enough. The GA community has spent the past two decades desperately trying to get people in power to look at the state of the industry and make positive, progressive and innovative change to make sure it thrives. They've been trying to get politicians of every colour–red, blue, green or white–to value GA and what it delivers to Australia. And they're still trying, which is a reliable indicator that nothing of any substance has been done. And now the ALP wants the GA community to tell their story again? That was done in the ALP's first White Paper. That was done in the ASRR. That was done in the senate GA inquiry. That was done in every piece of CASA consultation put forward. Mostly, the story hasn't been listened to. The GA community fears that another White Paper will be a copy-and-paste of the last one, when input to the preceeding Green Paper was almost completely ignored in favour of an outcome that was so obviously pre-determined. The GA community doesn't need to know that all the work done since the ALP was last in power will be junked simply because it all happened on the Coalition's watch. That would reset our doomsday clock close to midnight.

In very good news for GA everywhere, minister Barnaby Joyce has thrown the Moorabbin preliminary draft master plan (PDMP) straight back at the people who drafted it. The PDMP envisaged ripping up more aviation infrastructure in favour of commercial development and contained nothing of much succor to the aviation businesses evicted in the process. A spokesperson for the minister told me this week that that PDMP "did not contain an adequate level of detail in several key areas, including a strategic direction for land use planning, and provide industry and the community certainty to plan and invest for the long term. Therefore, it does not currently satisfy all requirements under the Airports Act 1996." On the not-so-QT, that means that the PDMP did not clearly assess the future needs of civil aviation and failed to bother about addressing the concerns of the airport stakeholders. The last PDMP didn't, so why should this one? The difference now is that airport stakeholders rallied to the banner and made their input clear, concise and forthright. Joyce has given the airport operators six months to think about their sins, and the only way they can get a pass mark from him (presuming he still has that job) is to properly engage with the aviation community on an equitable future. But what if such equity is not possible? We are going into unchartered waters, and every other leased airport in the country will be watching with interest.

The two ATSB reports released this week are connected in several ways. Firstly, the airports–Ballina-Byron and Mangalore–are both airports that Airservices wants to establish Surveillance Flight Information Services (SFIS) at; secondly, both are in high transiting traffic areas; and thirdly, both incidents involve a breakdown of separation. Where the two stories diverge is that at Ballina the aircraft missed each other; at Manglore they did not. The underlying message from the reports is that both incidents were about awareness. At Ballina the Jabiru simply wasn't aware of the A320 and at Mangalore the two aircraft had been alerted to each other, but there seemed to be a lack of awareness of the seriousness of the unfolding situation. These two incidents will add serious fuel to the fires of those advocating for Class E airspace down to 1500 feet. Had that been in place at Ballina and Mangalore the aircraft would have been operating under clearances. But as with so much in aviation, you can't change one thing without changing another; dropping the base of the Class E would only encourage those that would rather not enter that airpace to play chicken with the high ground on the peripheries. It is telling that among the recommendations of neither investigation report is the idea of changing the airspace classifications. However, the ATSB does come down heavily on the side of ADS-B and any subsidies that will help with the uptake of that technology. ADS-B may have helped at Ballina, but not at Mangalore where both aircraft were operating under IFR and therefore already had ADS-B Out. It is very hard to see how anything could have helped in what many had thought was an impossible accident.

May your gauges always be in the green,


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