– Steve Hitchen
Last Friday's first public hearing of the senate inquiry into GA was like an open mic night where everyone got to sing their own song. Open mic nights can be great fun, but they descend into chaos when the singers all accuse each other of being out of tune. The main melody was of an industry besieged by a regulator that has so little understanding of the industry that they seemed to be surprised by some of the evidence. Like they were hearing it for the first time. There was very little new information presented; all of it was dredged up from as far back as the Aviation Safety Regulation Review (ASRR), of which CASA was the target. A lot of it had even been presented at senate committees before today. But it seems that facts can be twisted more ways than a Rubik's Cube. On several occasions, evidence was delivered in good faith that was wrong or out of date. Sometime it was understandable; other times flabbergasting. Most of the evidence was factual, but delivered in a colour that matched an agenda or clear philosophy. That was, I suppose, to be expected. I feel mostly for the senators, to whom has landed the job of centrifuging out all the agendas to leave only the true facts in the bowl. That's going to be a challenge for a group of people for which aviation is not their first language.
The most damning evidence of the day was delivered in straight-face style by Glen Buckley. Regulated into bankruptcy, Buckley is a man with little left for CASA to take, so he directed accusations of misfeasance at three senior managers, by name. Buckley came across like a cornered bulldog that had done all the barking he was prepared to do and had now turned to biting. CASA CEO Shane Carmody rejected the allegations and had clearly come prepared to defend his organisation with his own set of teeth. Charges of misfeasance are a serious matter and shouldn't ever be leveled in anger, only after legal advice and considered thought. As the case is currently in the hands of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, it is prudent to let that office do their work. Although the conclusions of the investigation are unlikely to include accusations of misfeasance, it will become apparent very quickly if Buckley's accusations are on the mark.
I'm not a CASA-approved aircraft weight guru, but it seems to me that if an aircraft is 4.1 kg over the stated basic empty weight it could be considered a mistake. But 100 kg over? That's not an error in the scales or a case of failing to carry the 1. Some FlySynthesis Texan 550s have been discovered to be much more portly than first thought, and CASA has hinted that the problem could lie in the certification standard. The papers, apparently, declare the Texan to be designed to CS-VLA and JAR-VLA, which are not the same standards as the ASTM standards to which LSAs are self-certified. Someone, somewhere is going to have a very bad day very soon. What has propelled this into the news is the apparent difference in the way CASA has dealt with this and the way they have approached a 4.1-kg discrepancy in the Bristell, a type already under siege. CASA says they have been consistent because the issues are different, but I am surprised they aren't more alarmed about the Texan discrepancy, because it shows a greater systemic break-down than the Bristell issue, and systems are definitely what CASA is all about.
There has been some traffic of late lamenting the unavailability of the AOPA financial report for 2019. There's no evidence of skullduggery here, it would seem. The Annual General Meeting slated for May was postponed because of COVID-19, so the board didn't sign off on the accounts. With the borders lifting like a Spring fog, the AGM is now down for 22 December at AOPA's new Bankstown HQ. However, we are likely to see the financial report as early as Monday afternoon. What condition the books are in remains to be seen, but they will probably reflect a series of challenges the assocation faces as it tries to remain the premier advocate for GA in Australia. Under the COVID circumstance, the industry needs to cut them a little slack.
Technology is magnificent until it fails. We in aviation know that, and in the next issue of Australian Flying we have examined that very issue as it applies to a cockpit. Last night we had our own technology failure, which forced us to cancel our Facebook Live session after it was scheduled to begin. It was one of those moments when things "should" happen, but they damned-well just don't happen. In our case, the simple click of a mouse to port the session from Zoom onto FB just refused to occur. We're onto it, and will do some more experimenting next week and will advise the rescheduled date and time.
May your gauges always be in the green,