– Steve Hitchen
When you spend as much time flinging brickbats as I do, it's good to be able to hand out bouquets when they are deserved. This week, I get to present flowers to the Department of Infrastructure for appointing Andrew Andersen as chair of the new General Aviation Advisory Network (GAAN). Andersen garners a level of respect in the aviation community that has no parallel. As a private pilot, passionate GA advocate and very cluey bloke, Andersen will infuse GAAN meetings with an air of co-operation and progress with no personal agenda attached other than a desire to see GA flourish. Over many years, he has shown a willingness to put in the hard yards when it comes to GA and is well-versed in the problems, strengths and prospects of general aviation. But Andersen is no silver bullet as indeed no chairman is, nor can be expected to be. In the end it will be up to all members of the GAAN to knuckle down and carry the hopes and expectations of all GA to the minister. Whether or not that minister is prepared to take advice from his advisors is not something that GAAN can control, but I am taking Andersen's appointment as a sign that someone high up is looking to make some forward steps.
Our aviation reform Tom-Tom is taking us down Inquiry Road again. The announcement of an inquiry into CASA regulation and the impact on GA has divided the aviation community into two camps: the "stick-it-to-them" camp and the "not-another-bloody-inquiry" camp. There are pros and cons to both arguments and advocates of corresponding strength on both sides. Firstly, we need to recognise Senator Susan McDonald for instigating this inquiry regardless of what you think: some action is always better than no action. It is also better to be talked about than not talked about. Clearly the senator has enough concern to take what ever action is immediately in her power. But we have been here before and we have presented the evidence before and even though governments and regulators have pointed out how much they've done, nothing has actually changed in the aviation industry's decline or predicament. So what faith can the aviation community have that this inquiry will actually do anything at all? That's a very hard question to ask and an even harder one to answer. The aviation community would be justified taking a cynical approach and refusing to engage with the senators based on a complete lack of faith. I don't think we should do that. The worst thing we can do right now is show the minister (who didn't commission this inquiry) that we aren't prepared to stand up for ourselves and our industry. We can't nobble attempts by the senators to quantify and qualify the impacts rampant regulation has had. Yes, we need to fasten our seat belts and take out our false teeth, because we need to again negotiate the bone-rattling potholes of Inquiry Road.
I wrote earlier this week that there is nothing good to come from the financial situation that AirVenture Australia has found itself in. It shows how vulnerable air shows are to weather, regulation and apathy and how the commercial side of an air show can suffer badly when the cost outweighs the income. Air shows are aviation's showcase to a general public that otherwise would be exposed to our community only through heavy jets passing overhead and episodes of Air Crash Investigation. But we can't rely on the public to carry the day; we, the aviation community, also need to get behind them in numbers worth talking about. If air shows aren't a big enough drawcard for aviators, we can't expect them to be attractive to non-aviators. Yes, gate attendances at AirVenture Australia were down, attributed mostly to the weather, but the aviation community itself didn't show up en masse either, which can't have helped the financial spreadsheet less red. As a result, AirVenture Australia, like too many other air shows and fly-ins before it, will disappear from the aviation calendar for next year and beyond. By no-one's measure is that good for aviation in Australia.
It would probably take an Act of Parliament now to stop RAAus getting their weight increase. It was largely a fait accompli since CASA accidentally made it known they supported the proposal themselves, and now the vast majority of feedback has indicated support for the idea, only a political roadblock in Canberra has the power to stop it. If we pare the argument down to its basics, there is not a lot of justification for them not getting the increase in operational terms. An aeroplane is an aeroplane and the sky is the sky regardless of what's painted on the side of the fuselage. The most powerful objections are political and have the ability to be resolved in other ways rather than spearing this proposal in the side. Issues of stall speed, maintenance and medicals seem to be most prevalent in the feedback, along with a broad-based objection of inconsistency in regulation. None of these should be dismissed as the output of cranks; they all have their own merits, and more work needs to be put in on each of them. We'll all get another chance to dissect the proposals when the draft rules are written, but you can rest assured the MTOW increase is going to happen inside of two years ... unless there's an Act of Parliament coming that we don't know about.
May your gauges always be in the green,