– Steve Hitchen
Angel Flight's latest attempt to overturn CASA's restrictions on pilots conducting community service flights has foundered on the rocks of the Federal Court, but that doesn't necessarily mean it can't be salvaged. It's not easy reading the decision as it shows how much the court accepted the submissions of CASA whilst rejecting nearly all those of Angel Flight. It's a disappointing result on a number of levels, not the least of which is that the imposed conditions will stand even though CASA is on record saying they will have almost zero impact. This is a position not easily understood and has done nothing but generate anger, frustration and hostility in the general aviation community. The decision also enshrines CASA's inference that a 350-hour PPL must be more dangerous than a 150-hour CPL and, perhaps more damaging, that CASA is under no obligation to justify its decision to apply conditions on a class of operations. There are several operators who have fallen foul of CASA's reluctance to supply meaningful justification for any decision, not just Angel Flight, and now the courts have confirmed what we've always feared: there are no shackles on CASA, a regulator that has a track record of getting things wrong then hiding behind a barricade of legislated authority. It will always be a struggle trying to overcome the barricade, which is what Angel Flight has discovered over the past few years.
The news of CASA moving to a national oversight model instead of a strictly regional one should give the aviation industry some reason to start hoping again. If it works, it could spell an end to the empire-building practiced among some CASA regional staff that has been the font of much poison in the relationship between the regulator and the regulated. Too many times people in the aviation community have been confronted with martinet inspectors that have sought to be their own authority within the authority, and with the Certificate Management Team (CMT) structure in place, there was no mechanism for stemming the toxic flow. Now, from 1 July, CMTs are gone and operators can expect a broader oversight position. Fingers crossed it produces a greater consistency in decision making and a reliability of advice, something that constant feedback has fingered as a serious problem for years. It might also restore some respect to the regulator if they get it right, but that will only happen if CASA shows it is prepared to extend that respect right back at the aviation community. Listening to the feedback, believing the feedback and taking action is a very good start, and tacit recognition that there was a problem all along even if the company spin thus far has refused to acknowledge it.
Next Monday, CASA's new CEO and Director of Aviation Safety Pip Spence is scheduled to stroll into Aviation House and assume the command seat. The big question is what she will do with all the power the minister has handed her. Her recent predecessors have immediately taken the step of sweeping the place a bit; changing things around to suit their own management philosophies, but in the end the momentum of inertia has been too great. It will take a DAS of drive and energy to overcome the rolling resistance of CASA's old-guard middle managers who are pre-programmed to resist any initiative they didn't think of first. Is Spence that person? She has the background and credibility to swing a organisation as large as CASA, but can she change its direction so that it's going the same way as the aviation community needs it to? Either way, I believe Pip Spence will be a DAS like we've never seen before and we're all in for something completely different.
I traveled to Adelaide during the week to attend the very first FlySafe forum. This is one part of a two-part strategy to replace the Regional Airspace and Procedures Advisory Committee (RAPAC) system, which served its purpose for around 40 years. FlySafe forums dovetail with the AvSEF website as a platform design not only to gather feedback, but also connect airspace users with the various agencies involved in aviation. Nearly 80 people showed up to Adelaide on Wednesday, which is a very encouraging start to the experiment. One of the benefits that became immediately obvious was that the SA aviation community became exposed to the process. Under the RAPAC model, dedicated people would show-up for every meeting, but it failed to capture a broad base of followers, meaning that the majority of aviators probably couldn't have told you what RAPAC actually was or what it did. FlySafe is likely a better fit for what most stakeholders respond to, and the attendance in Adelaide tended to concur with that. Onwards now to Darwin, where CASA is hoping to consolidate its great start.
RotorTech is now only a month away and the rotary aviation industry is getting very excited now! After a COVID-corrupted year, everyone is looking forward to injecting energy back into a flagging industry. To do our part, Australian Flying is holding a RotorTech on-line forum at 7.00 pm on Wednesday 26 May. Streamed live on our Facebook page, the forum will bring together industry experts and identities in a panel to discuss the state of the rotary aviation industry now, where it has to be and how we get it there, as well as previewing RotorTech 2021 and its importance to the general aviation community all over. Rotary aviation is in a position to write a GA recovery playbook, and we expect the forum to contain some valuable material for everyone who has that passion for flight.
May your gauges always be in the green,