– Steve Hitchen
Reading and analysing the Hansard from Wednesday's Angel Flight hearing is a four-coffee task. A lot of questions were asked, a lot of questions were answered, a lot of questions were not answered. What comes through very clearly are two things: CASA and the ATSB think they have it right and almost the entire bench of the RRAT committee thinks they have it wrong. This is a Goliath and Goliath battle between the established bureaucracies of CASA and the ATSB and the representatives of the people. It's a pardoxical battle in many ways. Politicians always come down on the side of needing to be seen to be doing something, but here they are grilling the ATSB and CASA; actions that appear to be a slap in the face to families bereaved by tragedy. Mind you, doing that is absolutely the right thing to do, but never a popular step for an elected representative to take. It says a lot about the esteem that Angel Flight and its crews are afforded in regional areas it was designed to serve. The general aviation community is likely to extract two weapons from the hearing transcript: that the ATSB did not talk to any Angel Flight pilots about pressure during the investigation and that the ATSB had no figures on how many times a pilot had canceled a mission themselves. Both of these issues drill deeply into the ATSB and CASA position that Angel Flight missions are less safe than normal private flights due to pressure, the justification for nearly every action taken this year on the matter of community service flights. If the figures show that a lot of pilots are canceling flights themselves, it shows that the pressure is not as intense as CASA and the ATSB have led us to believe. The battle goes on. We need it to. We can't be governed by organisations whose arguments are pulled apart so easily.
It's time now for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into the issue of a weight increase for recreational aircraft. This is proving a devisive issue in general aviation and one of the murkiest due to a variable understanding of what it means. The main proponent is RAAus and their initial supporting pillar was that an increase to 760 kg would make it easier for home-builders because they could build stronger aircraft with better designs rather than skimp here and there to squeeze under the current 600-kg limit. An MTOW increase means that things like C150s could now be registered with RAAus as well as homebuilts. What it does not mean is that you could now load-up your 600-kg MTOW LSA to 760 kg and fly it legally. If the aircraft isn't certified to 760 kg at least then you're stuck at the limit you're at now. It also doesn't mean that you can now do your own maintenance on your C150 if you move it to numbers registration; aircraft in the new category would keep their existing maintenance regimes. It does mean you could now fly it without a CASA medical. It's also unlikely that manufacturers will start churning out aircraft at the new 760-kg MTOW. In many cases that will mean a complete redesign of spars and landing gear components. Right now, their aeroplanes are performing quite well in the markets they are in and resdesigns cost dollars. Most interesting about the discussion paper released this week are the FAQs at the end. It seems CASA has gone on the front foot and used the FAQs to smash back political questions. Whilst there are factions in GA that are attempting to entangle politics with this issue, I wouldn't have thought a discussion paper on regulatory change was the place to address that. Better it would have been to use the FAQs to answer questions that are likely to be asked frequently.
This weekend Matt Hall has to fly like he's never flown before. His last chance at a Red Bull Air Race World Championship has arrived, and he will need to pin back his ears and go like hell to get the better of Muroya and Sonka, both past champions. But after the Lycoming starts to rumble on race day, Hall has to forget all that. It's a race like every other: there are lines to be flown, a track to be covered, pylons to negotiate and vertical turns to ace. Hall's mantra since he first started in the competition a decade or so ago has been to fly clean, fly well and let the others do what may. Hold fast to that and he's in with a real chance this weekend. Can he do it? Damned straight he can! This is the final ever round of RBAR and it's a race that will go down to the last turn of the propeller. Tune in if you can ... it's going to be a blinder!
May your gauges always be in the green,