Matt Bouttell knows he has taken over an organisation in good shape. As the new Chief Executive Officer of Recreational Aviation Australia, he arrived just as RAAus was on the cusp of being handed their CASR Part 149 certificate.
With that now hanging on the wall of the Fyshwick office, Bouttell's main task is not to be a new broom, but rather to keep driving the organisation along a well-forged pathway.
Bouttell came to RAAus with extensive aviation experience, having done an engineering apprenticeship with Qantas in his younger years before two stints in flight operations with the airline, operations at Airservices Australia, industry relations at CASA and air traffic management back at Qantas. Somehow he fitted in time to do a GFPT with Basair at Bankstown and PPL with Curtis Aviation at Camden. He also flies a Jabiru in the Snowy Mountains and is part-owner of a Grumman Tiger stabled at Canberra.
With such an indepth background in heavy commercial administration, the decision to move to RAAus gave him a fresh outlet for his aviation passion.
"It was a great opportunity to join an organisation that's on the up and live my passion," Bouttell told Australian Flying. "How hard can it be coming to work every day trying to help people have fun in aviation? I'm genuine about that.
"The biggest thing I've noticed is that RAAus is different. What we do is slightly different because we operate under an informed participation model, where we expect participants to be fully informed before they hop in an aeroplane. Whereas, if you hop into a certified jet heading up to Ballina or wherever, you have all this assurance around it.
"In my background, coming from a certified and controlled environment, Part 149 actually provides a level of assurance the same way the accountable manager of an airline does. We're administering, not operating, which is a key difference, but we do all the functions down to just above flying the aeroplanes and doing the maintenance."
As an Approved Self-Administering Aviation Organisation (ASAO), RAAus lives today in an environment of heavy regulation and constant engagement with CASA, Airservices and other aviation bodies, which is where Bouttell's background can prove invaluable. In that area, he is a very different CEO to the previous one, Michael Linke, whose expertise took the organisation from crayons to fountain pens.
"I dare say I was bought into this organisation because of my aviation background not because I was a seasoned CEO or governance expert, and that's an area that I really want to develop," he muses. "The things I bring to this organisation outweigh the things I don't have, and if you look at our response to Airservices' Class E proposal, we're raising the bar in influencing the airspace model and regulations, that's definitely where I see the advantages that I bring to RAAus."
"I think we're all living in a world of change at the moment. Last year was a dead loss in so many ways, and I think we have to continue to plan things, but be more agile in our approach. If something isn't going to happen because we have another outbreak, that's a natural change, not something that I've brought about, it's just where we are as an organisation.
"But, the thing I've probably changed is raised our level of input to regulation and airspace planning. Having worked at both CASA and Airservices I understand the way they function, so that gives us the opportunity to leverage that and be more on the front foot and still have a seat at the table.
"Where I can put my stamp on the organisation is by being positive about aviation for our members and more broadly for our industry. I'm not really interested in getting into the politics; I really don't understand that. We're all trying to achieve the same thing; we all want aeroplanes in the air. In our case we want people to have fun safely and that it's accessible.
"An airline wants to be able to make money–and that's all fine–but in the end we're all using the same commodity, which is airspace and airports. So I hope to bring enthusiasm and positivity; make people want to be a member of RAAus, and if they don't want to be a member that's OK too, I just want them to participate in this wonderful thing called aviation."
Bouttell has inherited two aspirational targets for the ASAO that are proving challenging to get over the line: an increase in maximum take-off weight (MTOW) from 600 to 760 kg, and access to controlled airspace (CTA) for holders of Recreational Pilot Certificates.
"The interesting thing about the increase in MTOW is that I would have thought that access to CTA would have been the higher priority. However, we get a lot more inquires about where the MTOW is at than CTA access. The organisation knows that MTOW is a big deal from a growth perspective.
"CASR Part 103 [Sport and Recreational Aircraft] is slated for 2 December this year. We are hoping that the pathway for an increase in MTOW is spelt out in Part 103 and the same with access to CTA. It will be up to each ASAO to put forward their case for CASA to approve it. So our ops manuals, our endorsement system will need to reflect what CASA will want to see for us to get that increase.
"We've got the material ready to roll-out that's in alignment with Part 61 or whatever that might be, but the sticking point is there is a line in there that says you must have a maximum stall speed of 45 knots. That's something we're going to continue to prosecute, because we don't think that's a valid limitation.
"We've got aircraft on our register today that could very safely operate at 700 kg. Unfortunately they've got a stall speed of 47 knots at that weight, so they aren't able to take advantage of that increase in MTOW. The 45 knots for us definitely came out of left field and it's unclear where that comes from. We're working with CASA to determine whether or not that 45 kt is a valid figure. I'm hopeful in Part 103 we'll see that pathway.
"I see a huge benefit to the industry if RAAus can get controlled airspace access. I also think that it simplifies the process for the Office of Airspace Regulation in that the idea of equitable use of airspace is so subjective. Safety of airline traffic is foremost in the Australian Airspace Policy Statement, but everyone must get a fair go is what it says. The challenge for the OAR is how would you do that at somewhere like Ballina if you put a tower in and exclude 10,000 pilots in doing that. That's not equitable use. My argument is that if you train pilots appropriately and endorse them, it resolves that issue.
"We're putting a good case to CASA about this [access to CTA] and not just about the safety performance of RAAus, but the overall safety of the system and it also addresses the issue of equitable use of the airspace.
"I am confident that CASA is taking on board our rationale around access to CTA."
Both these issues–among others–have generated friction with general aviation associations, most prominently the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA Australia) and its CEO Ben Morgan, and the Sport Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA), both of whom have voiced opposition to the MTOW increase and CTA access, saying that they afford unfair advantages to members of RAAus over their own members. The issue has sparked wars of words in the past, which is something Bouttell is not keen to engage in.
"There are so many associations in aviation and they all have a place for various reasons," he explains. "The thing RAAus provides is a different style of aviation. I see the issue of a driver's licence medical for PPLs as something CASA needs to look at in a sense that the PPL is an ICAO licence.
"To deviate from the ICAO requirements is a challenge for them. I'm not saying whether I am for or against, only that the basis for that licence is ICAO. I think the RPL is where the driver's licence medical is up for negotiation with CASA, but it's a challenge for the PPL."
"At the end of the day Ben has his organisation and operates differently to the way I do, and that's OK; that's not a problem. Be it the Mooney or Beechcraft associations or whoever, if it enables people to participate in aviation then that's good. I'm certainly not going to get involved in stoushes because I'm just not interested in that, to be honest. Ben and I have talked and had some good conversations, but ultimately I'm about RAAus and good aviation, and feeding any fire with AOPA is not something I'm interested in doing.
"I see us and AOPA as totally different. We're a Part 149 administrator with a base of 10,000 members and we owe it to them to advocate on their behalf, just as Ben advocates on behalf of his members. We both advocate for the industry more broadly.
"I'm just focused on what we do for our members and not what other people think of us necessarily. I don't lose sleep over it ... I've been the industry relations manager for CASA!"
But it's not only the associations that RAAus can find itself in conflict with. As an ASAO, their main role is to administer aircraft operations on behalf of CASA, but as a membership organisation, their job may be to advocate against regulators on behalf of the members. Issues such as the Jabiru engine restrictions put in place several years ago and the Bristell stall restrictions can prove problematic for the ASAO in the middle.
"As an organisation, we absolutely have to support safety," Bouttell points out. "When that's in conflict with what our members want, my role as the accountable manager of a Part 149 organisation means I have to weight up both sides. I can't control what CASA does.
"In any situation if we see a safety issue, and we have members who take a 'she'll be right' approach, I'm not going to sit back and say 'no worries'. That's our responsibility not only as a 149 organisation, but also as aviators.
"Every day I find myself in a position where CASA wants me to do one thing and the membership wants me to do another. I don't have the authority to break the law, and the law being Part 149 says 'you shalt do as we say' as it does for a Part 141 or Part 135 operator.
"It's about having a good relationship with both our members and CASA to try to work through a sensible solution. We know that some of the regs are not necessarily sensible, and we know what often our members may not understand why. It's about just navigating the issue and every issue is different."
So although RAAus is motoring along nicely, Bouttell understands the challenges of keeping it going in the right direction, whilst at the same time achieving the goals for members that the board of RAAus has set. As him main task, he know that his success or failure will be measure by them.
"Success for me is that aviation industry more broadly is prospering, and that's a real challenge. I think RAAus has the opportunity to influence in a positive way the aviation agenda. Also enabling pathways for an MTOW increase or CTA access and doing it in a way that doesn't bugger it up for someone else.
"Another measure of our success would be to get young people into aviation and increase diversity; try to get other people involved in aviation. Typically we're all middle-aged white males.
"When I did my apprenticeship in 1991 there were 300 apprentices and only three females. All three females topped the year. What does that say?"
Aspiration aside, Bouttell's aviation background has instilled in him a level of pragmatism.
"We're never going to achieve 100% of everything that we want, so we need to know when it's time to be happy with what we've got and support everyone to achieve what they want as well."