– Steve Hitchen
CASA's bi-annual Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey report is once again in the public domain and, on face value, shows absolutely nothing changed between 2018 and 2020. Mischevious thought would label this as a win for CASA, given that the APTA fiasco, the Bristell stall/spin controversy and the Senate Inquiry all originated in this period and look very bad on the regulator's resume. It would be fair to expect the satisfaction level to plunge on the back of those actions, so to hold their ground is not such a bad result. However, indicators point to this being as good as it gets. Underpinning the disatisfaction aspect is that nothing has changed; people don't trust CASA, don't believe they contribute much to aviation safety and believe that safety levels in Australia are achieved in spite of regulation, not because of it. Nothing new there. But what is new is the participation level, which the report collator Faster Horses alluded to, then moved on. In 2018, the 6600 surveys sent out garnered 1168 responses, a return rate of 17.7%. That was down to 11% for the 2020 survey, which is probably the most telling statistic of all. It shows that people are disengaging with CASA, and anecdotal evidence lays the blame at the feet of a complete lack of change or improvement on behalf of the regulator. If you like, it's a measure of apathy and lack of confidence, and that metric is clearly increasing. It will take a quantum change at CASA to get that stubborn satisfaction rating going in the right direction, and an entirely new culture to have the aviation community engaging with them again on a meaningful level.
There are some very nervous operators at Moorabbin Airport, and the recently released 2021 Preliminary Draft Master Plan (PDMP) has not only justified the jitters, but amplified them into out-right despair. After seeing bulldozers plough up large tracts of aeroplane movement area to accommodate non-aviation development, the PDMP has done nothing but offer more of the same for main-apron tenants. Despite talk of expanded apron space and increased parking, there is a confusing undercurrent to the plan: MAC acknowledges that Moorabbin is essentially a training base, but is putting schools at risk by ousting them from their buildings, and the master plan contains no clear solutions. With the case of MROs that were evicted by the 2015 plan, MAC is building new premises on the northern apron for them to lease, but flying schools are not MROs. Well-established schools like Tristar and Moorabbin Flying Services have poured sweat and money into making Moorabbin a successful flight training hub, only to find themselves effectively discarded. MAC has invested $10 million for new premises for CAE Oxford, a foreign company, but has gone completely backward in their support for smaller Australian-owned customers. With Soar Aviation collapsing having done little for aviation except take up circuit space, you would think MAC might turn towards the established schools to help them achieve the forecast increase in movements touted in the PDMP. There's an old saying in business: it is easier to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one. MAC seems to have forgotten that. It would be very appropriate if a flood of submissions to the PDMP was to remind them.
My excursion to Clare Valley Aerodrome last weekend was a real eye-opener and a delight to have done. The purpose was to help present the 2020 CASA Wings Award for the Aero Club of the Year to Clare Valley Flying Group, but the journey turned out to be much more than that. CVFG, who runs the airport, has built a magnificent facility that is everything you would expect from an enthusiastic, dedicated and supported group that was faced with a clean sheet. The club rooms are aviation-inspired and placed in a great spot to watch the runway, the movement area and fuel are nice and large and all sealed, the hangars are all new and completely subscribed. They even have a weather-cocking Tobago as a gate guard to show them the wind direction. So, when many other groups and clubs have to fight day-to-day, week-to-week just to keep established airports, how did CVFG get a new one made, carved out of a paddock? It's like this: Clare Valley Aerodrome is a child raised by a community. Everyone in the area seems to have wanted it and was prepared to do what it took to get it. Donations of money, equipment and time rolled in to give the project momentum until the end. Governments chipped in with grants and councillors helped pave the way. Businesses donated material and support. It took 13 years to get the airport to the standard it's at as possibly the best ALA in Australia, but all challenges were met with the support of a community that could see value in having an airport. The largest donation, of course, was the land itself, handed to CVFG by the people who once owned it. Airports service entire communities not just the aviation sector, and Clare Valley is an example of what can be done once a community values its airport.
May your gauges always be in the green,