– Steve Hitchen
General aviation, like much of the world, is facing a quantum shift that may add up to be a make-or-break event. Sustainability will be the dominant influence on the GA community within 20 years, if it isn't already now. Most of the change is coming in fuel as the industry commits itself to a zero-emissions target. There has been a leap in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) developed to replace or supplement Jet-A1, which is the obvious path for commercial and business jets and turbo-props, but the algebra is more complicated for light GA. Electricity and the necessary change of engines is emerging as the new power source for light aircraft, but diesel engines are, in some cases, proving a viable option more than they ever have before. What is not being talked about is a drop-in avgas substitute for engines already fitted to the legacy fleet. Although a no-lead avgas has now been approved, it has a fossil-fuel base and therefore isn't a good fit for the current demands for sustainability. The equation results in a major shift in general aviation. Legacy designs that have been kept warm since the late 1950s and early 1960s will finally go cold as new aircraft are designed around the powerplants like never before. For many of us, this won't happen in our flying careers, but unlike those of us whose careers are entering civil twilight, the new generation will have flying machines that are very different from the generation that went before.
The bedrock seems unsteady; imperceptibly shifting. No earthquake Victoria-style, but a tremor that hints that our world could be changing shape. Cracks are appearing in walls. The epicentre appears to be Canberra, where a shift in attitudes towards general aviation are becoming apparent. Although not monumental, GA advocates are telling me that there is "a real appetite for reform" within the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, backed up by some whitehats within CASA tired of the hard-nosed bureaucrats who are embedded in an historical culture of inertia like Easter Island statues. This week the department announced that they wouldn't be increasing the no-approval investment threshold at federally-leased airports despite the demands of leaseholders. In the past, a threshold increase would probably have been rubber-stamped through like most other deviations from the original lease agreements have been. And there are other signs, many of which have to stay under wraps until they have been nurtured enough to present to the world. The evidence is not so much in what is being said, but rather who it is that is saying it. Some of general aviation's most pessimistic trumpets are sounding more optimistic, which I will admit is a fanfare that I never expected to hear. Some attribute the shift to the new minister Barnaby Joyce; others to new CASA DAS Pip Spence. There are quite a few impressed with the appoinment of former CASA board member Anita Taylor as the minister's aviation advisor. People who are singing praises now would have been throwing brickbats two years ago, and that's a change in itself.
There is a significant deadline coming up: 5 November. That's the day the 2021 CASA Wings Awards nominations close. That is only four weeks away now, so if you're planning to put in a submission, you should be in the final stages of your cut-and-polish. In doing so, go back to the criteria and ask yourself how well you have matched your submission. It has been a common denominator for all the winners so far that the nomination clearly addressed all the criteria and a good case for the person or organisation was articulated. No nomination has ever been successful that didn't do a good job of that simple thing. So give it one last check and get it submitted on line. There has been a very good response this year, so there's a chance the traditional time extension may not happen in 2021.
May your gauges always be in the green,