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The Great Dividing Rage

The Great Dividing Rage

Once again, the powers that be will increase the distance between sectors of Aviation in Australia as regulations regarding charter operations are re-written. It seems that the gap just gets bigger as each category is forced into their own self-governing world.

One has to question what this means for operators, pilots and enthusiasts. Will it make flying more expensive? Will it mean less accidents? Will it mean better regulation of each sector? Or will it just create the ‘Great Divide’?

An ‘us and them’ mentality is already infecting minds. So often you’ll hear conversations of this polarised situation, where the ‘other’ has free run of the sky, or someone is too regulated…or not regulated enough.

The question should be, is it possible to maintain safe skies for everyone’s enjoyment without a singular over-seeing authority? That’s what could be happening. CASA is shedding responsibility bit by bit until eventually they may be nothing but the designator of airspace boundaries and a passenger-handling authority. The Warbirds will go to their corner, then Recreational Flyers to theirs, passenger-carrying services will be kept and the GA operators will be left in the bureaucratic rubble somewhere in between.

On the other hand, self-government does present many benefits. People who know it most intimately will run each sector. Systems are put in place that best suit the needs of the category and service is more intimate. Within these smaller categories, develops a sense of responsibility and a set of ethics upheld by the members.

 It seems that GA operators, being the largest slice of the non-commercial aviators are, at present, the only ones still to be stuck under the strict governance of an authority which doesn’t understand them. They pay dearly for training, licensing and CASA garble that a neighbour only 500 kgs lighter can ignore completely, or a neighbour only 500 kgs heavier can rely on for unending support.

 Consider CASA’s proposed changes to Charter and RPT operations, most specifically how they are regulated and prioritised. They threaten to pull charter operators in the opposite direction to Recreational aviation. This could just increase the gap between the two. If the gap continues to grow, it’s possible that GA will just disappear into the void!

For the time-poor or money-rich, aircraft charter is an excellent way to get around. It just makes sense: where time is money, charter allows private, flexible and efficient travel. Australia is a prime candidate for this kind of service, since the largest booming companies are currently resource focused and based in remote areas. In addition, there is an increase in shift work where regular airline transport is inconvenient and time consuming and business is becoming increasingly ‘global’.

So, it is timely that there are these interesting changes happening with regards to the transporting of the public. Firstly, CASA had reviewed their policy for prioritising areas of air safety. Secondly, they are revising CASR 119 and 135 and merging the two to create a single standard for both regular public transport and charter operators.  CASA say in their media releases that their new policy will put passenger safety first. Has safety been second fiddle in the past? And, if passengers come first, then what will happen to the operators, who now come second? It could be argued that passenger safety and aviation safety are one in the same. But it still seems to some that CASA is moving more away from its responsibility to the aviation industry and more towards limiting liability and protecting passengers.

CASA’s new policy allocates resources according to their own decided order of hierarchy. They are: passenger transport, aerial work and general and freight-only activities. The passenger transport class covers flights that carry passengers in large or small aircraft, scheduled or non-scheduled.  In other words, this class covers operations CASA has previously described as regular public transport and charter flights. The aerial work class covers a wide range of activities where aircraft are involved in specialised activities and may carry people who are not crew, known as task specialists under the policy.  Aerial work activities include emergency and medical flights, law enforcement, aerial agriculture and aerial survey.

The general and freight-only class covers most private operations, flying training, freight-only operations and other activities where only the crew is on board an aircraft.  It also includes people who choose to fly on aircraft where they know and accept the level of safety provided, such as recreational and sports aviation.

Aviation operations that carry passengers are given the highest safety priority, standards and regulatory oversight. CASA’s chief executive officer, Bruce Byron, says the policy is important because it clearly sets out how CASA and the aviation industry will manage safety.

“Passenger carrying flights get the highest priority in terms of safety because the people flying on these aircraft are not expected to know about or control safety,” Mr Byron says. “Passengers quite rightly rely on the aviation industry and CASA to manage safety on these flights.”

The reasoning for this new set of priorities is that passengers have limited or no knowledge of the risks they are exposed to and little or no control over the risks, other than choosing not to fly. Therefore, they rely heavily on CASA to ensure their safety.

By all intents and purposes this makes sense but it is also important to operators that they find out exactly what will be changing within the regulations to ensure this new policy is effective. One element expected to change with regards to charter operations, is the creation of a single standard for both regular public transport (RPT) and charter operators. Under the new proposal, it once again begins to sound a little like CASA shedding its responsibility and putting it all back on the operator. The proposal includes making the Chief Executive Officer responsible for the safety system and regulatory compliance; requiring operators to develop and maintain a Safety Management System; introducing minimum standards for an operator’s maintenance control manual and requiring operators to provide for crew training and checking, or to arrange for this to be conducted by an organisation approved under CASR Part 142.

There are nearly 600 Air Operators (AOC holders) in Australia with Charter approval and only 43 scheduled service operators. For large charter operators who already have a steady stream of work or deal with large companies, their procedures and policies will most likely slide easily under the new banner, requiring nothing more than a quick change for references in the Operation Manuals. But it’s still unknown what the effects will be for the majority of those operators who hold AOCs allowing charter, who already struggle to keep a simple fleet of light aircraft (under 5700kg) making a profit. Those small operators are the ones concerned about the increased level of priority for passenger carrying services.

In fairness to both sides of the story, it’s not all necessarily bad news for small charter operators. If you consider the requirements of many of Australia’s larger companies with respect to chartering of aircraft, there is currently a level of concern about using small aircraft and small operators due to the perceived and, sometimes, justified risks. With the move to a more uniform regulation of passenger carrying, these concerns may be overturned by the peace of mind that all operators are meeting the same high standard. For those AOC holders up to the challenge, this could even mean a chance to get a larger slice of the pie, currently dominated by the big operators.

Areas left in question at this stage are how single engine charter fits into the regulations, along with light twin-engine aircraft that do not have the dynamic performance of the larger turboprops and jets. For example, should a light twin that does not have the performance of an airline aircraft be required to climb away after V1 when there are still miles of runway before it? CASA indicates in their documentation that the appropriate dispensations will be issued in areas where the regulation need not apply or is considered excessive. But it does seem that this might be just the same as leaving the regulations the way they are. Same dog, different stripes?

This all gets back to how far we can separate the concepts of safe general aviation and safe passenger operations before something gives. If you own an ultralight or an A320 you can sleep peacefully but if you’re anywhere in the Great Divide, the future is yet to unfold.

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