– Steve Hitchen
CASA's general aviation workplan may not be a corner-turning moment for GA, but it is mileage in the right direction. Read deeply through this; you'll find it addresses many of the issues that have dogged aviation over the past 20-odd years. Those issues are the things that we have constantly blamed for causing the doldrums that the GA industry is in. Self-declared medicals, engineer training, simplified maintenance for GA, reform the regulatory philosophy, make CASRs more compatible for GA operations. It follows that if CASA completes the workplan then GA must be facing a more vibrant future, simply because we have told the government and the regulators so. So let it be written, so let it be done. However, CASA is on record as saying they implemented the majority of the Aviation Safety Regulation Review (ASRR) recommendations as well, and yet the fortunes of the GA community remained stagnant or even went backwards. Was the GA community wrong when they said the ASRR reforms would salve the wounds, or was something else in play? One of the key recommendations from the ASRR was that CASA change its culture, and despite programs to bring that about, nothing really happened. I fear the same for the workplan: no meaningful change will result unless CASA sweeps out those that perpetuate the "more regulation equals more safety", "never admit error" and "if in doubt, ground" attitudes that continue to poison the water from which GA must drink to survive. Organisations cannot change culture unless it is driven and demonstrated at the highest level, so with the workplan must come a committment from the board and the DAS to build a new CASA that is engaged, aware and responsible for all the outcomes, intended or not. Without that, the workplan will never get GA to the corner that it needs to turn.
Senator Rex Patrick's "sledgehammer" was revealed at his MayDay address last Sunday, delivered to about 70 people in the AOPA Australia hangar. His promise was to introduce a bill that would "force" CASA to look at ditching all the CASRs that they've developed since 1988 and adopt the FARs from the USA. Patrick has been one of GA's greatest supporters in the senate and has always been prepared to take CASA, Airservices and just about everyone else apart in the quest for aviation reform. However, I have to wonder if his sledgehammer has the power to deliver. As an independent senator, he can introduce a private members bill, but for that bill to get anywhere it must be supported by a majority of senators in the red house when it is voted on. For that to happen, it has to have the support of the Coalition or the ALP; independents alone won't be enough. Neither of the big two has shown any appetite for stuffing around with aviation safety, so recruiting them to such a revolutionary cause will be no mean feat. Have a look at the attempts to remove the primacy of safety from the Civil Aviation Act. No support there from the redshirts or the blueshirts; way too risky for either side. So how Senator Patrick intends to drive his upheaving bill through parliament is a mystery. The Coalition has flagged a lot of reforms in the Aviation Recovery Framework, but you won't find chucking out 35 years of work and starting again as one of initiatives within. That's not saying that Patrick shouldn't introduce his bill; he should do it. It will not force change, but it will force politicians to show their hands and for a short time lay the problems of GA out in front of all the senators, even the disinterested ones.
Surely this time private pilots must get the self-declared medical standard that RAAus pilots have enjoyed for years! Going by what we can see, all the pieces are in place. CASA has even given the idea a name: Class 5 medical standard. With the consultation to reform the entire medical philosophy now open, you can bet the weight of feedback will support the idea. The CASA DAS also seems in favour. Oh, dear ... deja vu. Back in the reign of Bruce Byron as DAS we were in exactly the same position and extracted a promise after consultation that self-declared medicals would be introduced. But it never happened. Despite all the support and momentum, the idea was pole-axed from within the aviation medical community. Too many DAMEs objected and threatened to dump their designations, causing a shortage of medical examiners in a system that was already under-populated. And that had ramifications for getting Class 1 and Class 3 medicals as well. Are we about to see a repeat? The difference this time around is that CASA has a weight of evidence from both the RAAus experience and the UK CAA that shows aeroplanes haven't been drilling holes in the ground through pilot incapacitation. And we have seen in the past how much CASA loves supporting statistics. The other big obstacle that this needs to overcome is the pain that certain members of CASA middle management will have to go through when they realise the GA community was right all along (see above under "never admit error").
May your gauges always be in the green,