– Steve Hitchen

It felt like aviation week in Canberra this week. The Coalition has pledged millions for upgrading regional airports, the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2019 passed the House of Representatives, Senator Rex Patrick moved to disallow CASA's community service flight (CSF) regulations in the senate and the Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport (RRAT) estimates session saw CASA further questioned over the data supporting those regulations.

Shadow minister Anthony Albanese commended the amendment bill to the house on Wednesday, but in doing so said that a Labor government would have taken the issue further. Unfortunately, he didn't elaborate on what he meant by that. What else would Labor have done? As the Labor Party has said with metronome regularity that safety must remain the priority, he can't have been talking about that, and there is not much else the industry has been asking for that needs a change to the Act. With Canberra all agog about the impending election, we can't rule out this as simply being a play for votes, albeit a minor one.

Part of his speech also included references back to the 2009 White Paper produced in Albo's time as minister, and he took pains to point out all the wonderful things that document had done for aviation. The sad thing for the shadow minister is that he's not going to harvest votes from general aviation for doing so. The White Paper is one of the most discredited documents ever written about aviation. A better tactic right now would be to point out their bipartisan support as expressed in the house on Wednesday, then never mention the White Paper again. Albo is always happy to point out that most of the recommendations of the White Paper were implemented, but where he misses the point is that most of the GA industry input to the preceeding Green Paper was almost completely ignored in the final product. The fact that 10 years later we're still fighting for genuine reform and revitalisation is plenty of evidence of the impotence of the White Paper.

Senate estimates on Thursday was really a bit of a fizzer. The aviation community had been eagerly awaiting CASA's data that justified the CSF regulations, and everything was set up for a ding-dong battle between Senator Rex Patrick and CASA. However, CASA was in the spotlight for only 10 minutes, during which time the most significant event was that CASA was warned that Angel Flight might not agree with their analysis of the accident statistics. That's been flagged from a long way out; Angel Flight was never going to agree with what CASA said was an accident rate "four-to-five times" higher than a regular private flight. So does it come down to "your mathematicians verses my mathematicians", a calculator show-down in front of a magistrate? It may very well be that Angel Flight needs to fall back on the motions of disallowance lodged in both the House of Reps and the Senate to kill off the rules once and for all time.

And now to address McCormack's millions. The Deputy Prime Minister announced $100 million for regional airports, something that has been desperately needed for as long as I have been writing about aeroplanes. Last year the Australian Airports Association also took up the call about funding shortfalls at regional airports, so this announcement has to be welcomed by the regional aviation community. You could argue quite well that every regional airport in Australia is in need of some form of upgrade, either runway surfaces, lighting, animal fencing or fuel bowsers. There will be a lot of airports sticking out their hands for money, but we're yet to see the eligibility criteria. Remote airports have benefitted from federal money for several years now, but those not classified as remote have been left to their own misery. As a result, the infrastructure has decayed without check, with local councils either unable or reluctant to spend the cash. And then there's the election. Victoria had a similar airport funding scheme under a Liberal government, which was immediately halted once the Labor Party took power. Will this scheme suffer the same fate if Labor sweeps to power at a federal level?

Speaking of which, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has taken time to lay out the Coalition's position and opinions on aviation. Similar details has been sought from the office of Anthony Albanese, but at the time this column was finished, nothing had been heard. I'll keep chasing them down.

Piper Aircraft is expanding the scope of the PA-28 airframe to include a 180-hp two-seater, the Piper 100. This is set to sell for quite a bit less than the Archer TX, which has to make it very attractive to flying academies. The IFR version, the 100i will have a third seat in the back for observation. The potential for this aeroplane in the private sector is intriguing. Although nominally a trainer, it could also attract the advances of private owners who prefer to squirt around with only one or two other pax and a heap of bags. It means owners don't have to pay for capacity they don't use, and at a much lower buy price than pretty much any other aircraft of that capability, it has to be an real option as a tourer also. In this country, where RPL pilots can't carry a third passenger anyway, the Piper 100 could be just the ticket.

Get your pens out! The 2019 Wings Awards are opening on 22 April. This year you'll have another chance to make sure the hard-working general aviation devotees of this country are properly recognised. The annual Wings Awards are made up of three categories: The Col Pay Award for a Lifetime of Service to General Aviation, Flying Training Organisation of the Year, Flying Instructor of the Year and Aero Club of the Year. Each category has its own criteria, which serve to guide those doing the nominating to make sure their submission has the best chance of being selected. All criteria are currently being updated and will be available via the Australian Flying website soon. Nominations close mid-July, so you've got plenty of time to get yours together and get it in.

May your gauges always be in the green,


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