Steve Hitchen

I suppose we can't expect a government that abdicated all responsibility for aviation infrastructure in the mid 1980s to suddenly be accountable and fix their own mess. When the regional airlines were "generously" gifted to local councils there was no thought to ongoing funding from Canberra; the point of handballing the airports in the first place was so to remove the cost burden from the federal coffers. And so we have now a draft report from the Productivity Commission that looks set to cement the status quo. Whilst the main focus of the report is the economic regulation of the major capital city airports, it did give passing thought to the plight of the regionals, but the recommendations are so weak the federal government will be able to satisfy them with nothing more expensive than rhetoric. This looks to be another government inquiry that will produce nothing of any substance at all. It has ignored quality input from people who proposed practical solutions and envisaged a brighter, healthier future for Australia's regional airports; and instead waffles a bit about economic regions and cautions about inappropriate development. All well and good, but in the end who gets to decide what is and isn't appropriate? The aviation community is beginning to understand that "appropriate" means whatever fits into existing government policy conveniently, and that does not bode well for the future of our regional airports.

Dick Smith has turned up the heat on Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack by erecting billboards in Wagga Wagga. Dick is spending $25,000 on ramping up his campaign to have the Civil Aviation Act 1988 changed to remove the primacy of safety and force CASA to take cost into account. The embattled DPM has indicated that changes will be made (theoretically bipartisan) to include taking cost of regulation into account, but there is equal bipartisan support for leaving safety as the absolute priority ... which sort of negates the cost thing completely. When I asked Mr McCormack if his changes were going to make it to the house during the 10 days sitting that are programmed before the election, he rebuffed the question by saying effectively it didn't matter because he was confident of getting back into power. I'll take that as a "No" given that they will want to use the 10 days to push through what will get them the most votes in marginal electorates. So, in reality, we're not going to be dealing with McCormack for much longer (Australia doesn't seem to be sharing his confidence of retaining power) and the question will likely soon be testing the bipartisanship of Anthony Albanese. I hope Dick has booked space on billboards in Marrickville.

It seems like almost every week we are reading about new technology projects that are going to change the face of aviation. This week there are more moves in electric power and supersonic general aviation. We are reaching a point in the history of aviation when technology is catching up with ambition; when the dreams of the past are starting to solidify into reality. Electric power has a lot of momentum behind it thanks to the urban mobility market that needs economic and efficient electric power to even come into existence. The noise associated with current aerial urban mobility aircraft have them restricted to helipads, so investors in this new market are desperate for electricity to deliver them from decibels. Supersonic flight has already been a reality in the civil world, but the economics stopped making sense and the technology got very old very fast. In short: it wasn't sustainable. New technology will need to satisfy not only economic and aerodynamic laws, but also the laws of the land that govern aviation regulation and the environment. In aviation, nothing operates in a vacuum, even when you're going faster than the speed of sound.

May your gauges always be in the green,



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