– Steve Hitchen

Sometimes draining the swamp does nothing but release crocodiles, and it seems that's what happened when the Federal Government took steps to curtail the activities of Angel Flight. Using creative interpretation of data, both CASA and the ATSB have come down on the charity pretty hard then vigorously defended their positions against missiles of simple logic. The ATSB this week has implored Angel Flight to adopt their recommendation of ditching private flights in favour of putting people on RPT. Quite rightly, Angel Flight has metaphorically told them to get stuffed; it is not reasonable to ask a charity to surrender their reason for existence. If people who need to travel long distances to medical appointments could use RPT they would! There's nothing stopping them from getting on webjet and making a booking on REX or Qantaslink. Doing that regularly costs time, raises stress levels and forces people to adhere to the airline timetables. Angel Flight alleviates all of that, which is why they've conducted over 46,000 missions. That sounds to me like a demand that needs to be met, and only through volunteer private pilots giving their time and lots and lots of their hard-earned money can that happen. But this Federal Government is not one willing to brook any embarrassment and I suspect a heavy hand is about to be laid on Angel Flight.

That recommendation was contained in the accident investigation report into a crash in Mount Gambier that contained no conclusions about the fact that the pilot took off VFR into IMC. This week, the ATSB released preliminary reports into two accidents in NSW that have a factor in common with Mount Gambier: the flights were VFR and the conditions were IMC. In fairness, the ATSB has not put out any conclusion at this stage because the investigations are not complete, so there could be other factors. However, it's hard to believe that the conditions played no part in these accidents at all, and surely in a reflection of Mount Gambier, the weather will be listed as a contributing factor. The sticking point is that the continued flight into VMC at Mount Gambier was not considered crucial enough to warrant action and it's fair for people to believe that the same reasoning will be applied for these other two accidents. Does this leave the ATSB anywhere to go that will keep their integrity intact? I doubt it, but we'll have to wait.

Having a crack at people about their pay packets is considered a very cheap shot and one most people are reluctant to take, but sometimes you just have to pull the trigger. It was pointed out to me this week that CASA, the ATSB and Airservices are now obliged to make the salaries of their executives public knowledge. The mere mention of executive salaries always angries-up the people in the streets, especially when there are so many who are putting in hours just as long or even longer for take-home pays sometimes less than 10% of what top-level public servants get. It makes them only angrier when they consider the level of service returned from government bodies. Comparisons with private business execs are a common defence, but that is only likely to result in an acquittal if the salaries of private executives are considered reasonable as well, which generally they're not unless it is by the executive themselves. Seeing so much money flowing out of the industry at a time when the participants are struggling will result in much gnashing of teeth, but very little else. For the record: CASA CEO $688K, Airservices CEO $1021K, ATSB Chief Commissioner $474K.

As part of a large fly-away group I landed at Gawler Airport in South Australia last weekend. On arrival Edinburgh airspace was deactive, which made the circuit entry a lot less stressful. Thanks heaps to the person who guided us in to park and the team who made sure we were all fueled for the trip home. Good work! Further thanks to the operators of Horsham Airport who make coffee and tea available in the terminal building. A perfect intermediate stop and an example for other airport operators as well. When you're away from home and you encounter people who do the small things to get you on your way, you know you're a part of a very special community.

May your gauges always be in the green,


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