– Steve Hitchen
The minister's issues paper on developing a national airspace policy is not a document for the faint-hearted or those not skilled in interpretation of officialese. It is not for those who can't tell their GASP from their GANP and reel in horror from abbreviations like GATMOC and the sinfully-conceived A/PSANSP. When you're trying to cut to the chase, it is annoying to have to machete your way through this forest of bureau-speak. But through all that, some pertinent points are still making themselves obvious, and one of those is what to do about low-level airspace. Currently, there is technically no such thing; no airspace in Australia is designated "low-level" although operations are. The issues paper suggests defining low-level as below 400 feet AGL, where helicopter and RPAS dwell and fixed-wing GA fears to tread unless taking off, landing or on approved ops. This is perhaps the most complex of all the issue placed on the table. A national strategic policy is needed to accommodate new entrants to the aviation market like drones and eVTOLs; aircraft that will need almost unfettered access to low-level airspace in the course of day-to-day operations. Consequently, changes under any new strategic direction stand to have the largest impact in this area. It's a no-brainer to state that all flights must include a phase done in low-level airspace, even if only taking off and landing, so any new policy will impact every aviator.
New CASA CEO and Director of Aviation Safety Pip Spence has landed at Aviation House and has opened her first CASA Briefing newsletter by outlining her expertise in the aviation industry and how much she understands it. I have no qualms as such with blowing your own trumpet, but if the tune you're playing is not one the audience wants to hear it's still just noise. There is a greater risk; a gauntlet that Spence had chosen to run, and that's to put promote yourself on a platform that currently doesn't exist. In this case, it's a promise of respect. She said "Under my leadership, CASA will show respect for the aviation community and actively seek to work with people from all parts of aviation to maintain and improve safety." Right now that's an unfathomable proposition; the operations side of the regulator has a reputation for disrespect and roughshod tactics when it comes to dealing with the GA community. It's almost part of their DNA. If Spence is going to achieve her platform, some serious changes are needed; changes that will thresh out the dead wood within the department and allow new growth to thrive. Spence's problem is that she has now boldly gone where so many have gone before, and if, like the others, she fails to deliver, the aviation industry will stop listening to her tune because they will have heard it before.
Australian Flying's RotorTech and rotary aviation forum last Wednesday night explored some of the main issues worrying the industry at the moment. From the Part 61 Flight Examiner farce (still unresolved after seven years) and a lack of engineers to the impact of RPAS and over-regulation; we canvassed a lot of material in one hour. With expert opinion and knowledge from Richard Butterworth from Kestrel Aviation, Mike Becker from Becker Helicopters and Philip Smart from AMDA Foundation, the forum looked at solutions as much as problems and gave a good insight to how the industry is faring under the pressure of the COVID downturn. One thing that became very clear is that the rotary industry is approaching all issues from a collaborative point of view with a community spirit that has palpable energy. The other obvious thing is that the industry is excited about the prospects of RotorTech in June and the event's ability to kick-start the rotary economy again. It's shaping up as a good news story that the entire GA community needs right now. If you missed the forum, check out the replay on the Australian Flying Facebook page right now. There's some good stuff in there.
May your gauges always be in the green,