• Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)
    Australian Flying editor Steve Hitchen. (Kevin Hanrahan)

Steve Hitchen

If you're out there looking for a good second-hand GA aeroplane at the moment you will have to be on the ball to get what you want; the market is skyrocketing in terms of price and there are buyers jockeying to get into the box seat. Aircraft like Archers and Cessna 172s in reasonable nick with good hours on them are in demand and they don't stay on the market very long at all. The current situation is an unintended consequence of problems sourcing new aircraft. Most of the GA manufacturers now are quoting up to two years to deliver new, meaning flying schools and charter operators are turning to the second-hand market as a source of fleet replacements. And with Lycoming rumoured to be around 15,000 engines in arrears world-wide, even a good aircraft with a time-expired engine needs to be mothballed and a used machine secured to keep the company running. Compounding this is the fact that Australia is running out of good condition low-hour aircraft that fit into the sweet spot in terms of utility and economy. Aeroplanes that would traditionally sell for around $60-70,000 are now fetching $100-120,000 easily. It has been a long time since a seller's market like this has existed, and it shows no sign of cooling down any time soon.

I'd pay money to score a seat at the upcoming aviation skills round table with Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Catherine King. I have been told about 20 or so people have been invited, which in aviation means at least 22 different opinions will come to the party ... normally. What is bringing everyone together at this time is a new awakening from the Federal Government that a healthy aviation industry relies heavily on maintenance engineers, and all sectors of aviation agree that here just aren't enough of them to go around and the pipeline is clogged. Where things could get entertaining on 23 August is a difference of opinion over priorities. There will be conflicting interests jostling for prime spots in the ear of the minister, fired by counter-advocacy from several quarters. Flight training organisations would very much like the airlines to stop poaching highly-qualified instructors, and airlines would dearly like to keep doing that. There are other points of heated discussion that I won't go into here. That's to be expected; defending common interests are what associations were formed to do. King's challenge is going to be finding an all-of-industry solution that is workable and easy to implement. My fear is that all of this will disappear into a huge melting pot of stuff that will eventually solidify into the new Aviation White Paper (more below on that). That would be a disaster; white papers take time and time is the only thing the industry is shorter of than engineers.

It is true the ALP government has inherited a pile of coal from which they are expected to make diamonds. The national debt is in the trillions, supply chains are rusty and fractured and almost every employment sector is saying the government must do more. The Federal Government has to make a little bit of cash go a long way. It is therefore very surprising that it is determined to spend a couple of million or so on a new Aviation White Paper when they already have at their fingertips all the information a white paper will ever give them. But most of that information is contained in documents that carry a Coalition masthead, so therefore needs to be discarded. Another compelling reason is that a new white paper was an election promise, albeit a promise that the industry didn't want and didn't ask for. The smartest, cheapest and most efficient thing the ALP could now do is implement the plans that the aviation sector and the Coalition sweated over to create, and shelve the white paper idea completely. I am guilty of pie-in-the-sky thinking here, because I have ignored political imperative. This is the ever-present undertow that influences policy from the shadows of Canberra. If you want to see the damage political imperative can do, just read the Aviation White Paper produced by the last ALP government, then steel yourself for what's coming ahead.

May your gauges always be in the green,


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