There was a genuine sense of optimism among delegates at the Wagga Wagga Commercial Club on July 10th.
At the Wagga gathering more than 30 industry associations from Australia’s general aviation community agreed to a proposed set of reforms aimed to tackle the administrative and financial burden of regulatory compliance that they say has led to the decline of their sector.
The united call came at the conclusion of a two-day summit organised by the recently-established Australian General Aviation Alliance (AGAA) that brought together about 100 delegates from across the general aviation sector, many of whom had taken time off and travelled from across Australia to be there.
Over those two days, the gathering discussed with great passion their frustrations with some aspects of the current regulatory arrangements and how they would fix it.
With such a diverse group, there was bound to be different opinions on the best path for reform. However, the civility and respect delegates showed each other as they worked towards consensus was, according to veteran industry watchers, all but unprecedented in a sector where parochialism is never far from the surface.
After all, when you have industry associations representing aircraft owners and pilots, maintenance and engineering workers, parachutists, gliding, hang gliding, recreational aviation, sport aircraft and seaplanes, among others, finding true common ground can be a challenge.
Ultimately though, the delegates did manage to find that common ground and agreed to a communiqué stating that the current regulatory stance adopted by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) was, “out of step with contemporary regulatory practice” and contributing to the rapid decline of Australia’s general aviation industry.
“The Australian economy has the opportunity to benefit from pilot and engineering training, aircraft and component maintenance and construction services flowing from the world-wide expansion of air travel and aviation activity – especially in Asia,” the communiqué said.
“To achieve this, we must be able to respond effectively and be liberated from over regulation.”
POLITICIANS TALK BIPATISANSHIP, BUT CAUTIOUS
The communiqué, which contains the findings and recommendations of the summit, has been sent to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack, as well as his shadow counterpart Anthony Albanese.
Both politicians spoke at the event and pledged a bipartisan approach to reform.
McCormack was the first cab off the rank on the first day of the conference, where he expressed his willingness to work with Shadow Minister Albanese.
“We’ve had a number of meetings in good faith and we’ve talked about what we can do in a bipartisan fashion to make sure that the regulatory burden is looked at,” McCormack told reporters after his speech.
“Anthony Albanese and I have met on a number of occasions in good faith to see what we can do and we’ll continue those discussions.”
Meanwhile, Albanese spoke to delegates the following day singing from a similar song sheet. “Simply put, the future of general aviation in this country should be above politics,” Albanese said.
“This is not about left versus right or old versus new.
“In Government or Opposition, I will work closely with Michael McCormack. Many of Michael’s political views might not be the same as mine, but I respect the great responsibility he bears and I accept that he is completely sincere in the way he is approaching his role.”
The communiqué, which since the conclusion of the summit has been sent to both McCormack and Albanese, called on the federal government to change the wording of the Civil Aviation Act, which as it currently stood, said CASA had to to “regard safety as the most important consideration” in its role regulating the industry.
Instead, the communiqué proposed that CASA, in exercising its powers and performing its functions, “must seek to achieve the highest level of safety in air navigation as well as maintaining an efficient and sustainable Australian aviation industry, including a viable general aviation and training sector”.
Further, it called for the main object of the Act to be to establish a regulatory framework for maintaining, enhancing and promoting the safety of civil aviation with particular emphasis on preventing aviation accidents and incidents.
The object of the Act should also recognise the importance of having a strong, efficient and sustainable aviation industry, of enabling more people to benefit from aviation and include an emphasis on “substantially reducing the administrative and financial burden of regulatory compliance”, the communiqué said.
While the talk of bipartisanship was welcomed, the push for legislative changes to the Act in relation to the primacy of safety was unlikely to be smooth sailing.
McCormack told reporters that safety was paramount.
“It has to be,” McCormack said.
“The general flying public knows that when they board a plane, they want to be assured that that plane is going to be safe and that all safety aspects have been taken care of.
“Australia has the very best safety record in the world as far as flying safety is concerned and we want to make sure that that continues. We have to make sure that that is a minimum, that that is an absolute standard that we always meet.”
The next day, Albanese struck a similar note, albeit one that offered those present a bit of encouragement.
“We all agree that safety must come first in an industry where there is no margin for error,” Albanese said in his speech.
“However, the message I am getting loud and clear from sections of your industry is that as things stand, a pure focus on safety has in some cases led to over-regulation and added unreasonably to your costs.
“It is only through working together that we can properly assess whether we are getting it right on the balance between safety and cost.”
The summit delegates also agreed to work on establishing a caucus of federal politicians for the general aviation sector.
IMMEDIATE REGULATORY CHANGES
Minister McCormack in his speech encouraged all delegates to focus on proposals that were “likely to have a practical effect delivering tangible improvements to the challenges GA is facing”.
To that end, in addition to the call for legislative changes that would required the approval of Parliament, the communiqué also outlined a “priority list of actionable items” that could implemented more immediately to support the general aviation sector.
The list covered rules covering aviation medical, flight training, meteorology, airports, aircraft registrations, maintenance and engineering, aviation security and airspace.
Further, the communiqué also called for the establishment of an Office of Aviation Industry within the Department of Infrastructure and Transport to “engage and assist industry to foster and develop aviation both domestically and internationally”.
In his letter to the Minister, AGAA summit chairman Geoff Breust, a former managing director of Regional Express (Rex) described the event as “a most significant gathering of aviation associations who have worked together in harmony to provide an agreed approach to regulatory reform”.
“Industry consensus such as this must provide Government with a clear approach for the future,” Breust’s letter dated July 17 2018 said.
“Australia is in a unique position for our industry to benefit substantially from the huge demand for pilot and engineer training not only for our aviation industry but also for our neighbours in Asia and the world.
“The Australian economy and community benefits from a healthy general aviation sector and we must not let these opportunities pass because of impractical and overly burdensome regulation.”
Further, Breust noted, “No one wishes to see our world class safety record and performance diminish”.
“What is needed is practical, outcome-based regulation designed to foster and develop our industry while maintaining our high level of safety as demanded by the community.”
INDUSTRY GROUPS EXPRESS HOPE
The Airline Owners and Pilots Association of Australia (AOPA), Aircraft Maintenance Repair Overhaul Business Association (AMROBA) and Sport Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA) established the AGAA in February 2018.
AOPA Australia executive director Benjamin Morgan said a change to Australia’s Civil Aviation Act and the adoption of rules from US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would help unlock the potential of this country’s general aviation sector and meet the demand of the airline industry.
While some in the sector have been calling for genuine change for at least a decade, if not longer, Morgan felt there was hope the current push would yield those sought after reforms. “Our industry has had plenty of demands over the years so we appreciate and we value the support that the Deputy Prime Minister has shown today,” Morgan told reporters at the summit.
“I’m actually reasonably buoyed by the statements that have been made. I can see that there is a clear intent and what we are going to be working towards to make sure that that intent translates into action.”
“The reality is if we don’t achieve this we will see the general aviation industry collapse even further. There is a large portion of our industry at risk.”
AMROBA executive director Ken Cannane said the Civil Aviation Act and the regulations were in some cases more than 20 years old and have been amended “time and time again” since.
“They are dated, they are totally dated and they need a total review,” Cannane said.
“This country has the facility to be 10 times, 15 times, 20 times bigger than what it is today simply if the regulations and Acts that are put out there are similar to the ones they have in America.
“We would boom and be in a position to provide flight training in this country for the whole of Asia Pacific area with the airspace system that we’ve got. We should have been there years ago.”
International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) secretary general Craig Spence, who travelled to Wagga Wagga from Washington DC, said Australia was missing out in a general aviation industry worth about US$200 billion worldwide.
“If you take a look at aviation, it is actually an ecosystem and in order for an ecosystem to survive you need to have healthy components all around,” Spence told reporters.
“General aviation needs commercial aviation and I believe commercial aviation needs general aviation because that’s where their pilots are going to come from.”
MINISTER ARRIVED WITH NEWS
McCormack said in his speech Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) was committed to completing the aviation regulatory reform package over the next 12 months.
In the meantime, there was ongoing work to improve the lot of those working in aviation, including general aviation.
To that end, the Minister announced in his speech changes to indemnity insurance for flight examiners.
“With effect from 1st September 2018, CASA indemnification will be provided to all Flight Examiner Rating holders and will continue for Approved Testing Officers,” McCormack told the summit.
“This announcement follows the completion of a policy review and public consultation by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities earlier this year.
“This approach will help retain experienced industry flight testing personnel working in regional areas, I know this has been an issue that industry have been keen to see a resolution and I am glad that today we can announce the good news.”
News of the resolution surrounding indemnity insurance followed an announcement from CASA in early July it had introduced a new category of private pilot medical certificate that aimed to simplify the process and reduce costs for private pilots flying piston engine aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of less than 8618kg.
Further, operations were limited to below 10,000 feet in day visual flight rules conditions, with up to five non-fare-paying passengers.
The new Basic Class 2 medical certificate means pilots can use their own general practitioner for aviation medical certification, then complete the process online for a $10 processing fee. This compared with having to visit a special aviation medical practitioner and pay a $75 processing fee under the previous arrangements.
“The new Basic Class 2 medical certificate is safe, simple, fair and inexpensive,” CASA director of aviation safety and chief executive Shane Carmody said in a statement.
“The medical certificate reforms made by CASA cut through unnecessary regulatory red tape and directly benefit many people in aviation, particularly those in general aviation.
“This is tangible evidence that CASA is working successfully to reduce the regulatory burden on the aviation community while maintaining appropriate safety standards.”
Further, McCormack said CASA had started work with the industry on the development of new general aviation maintenance regulations.
“There will be a new set of maintenance regulations tailored specifically for general aviation, which will be based as far as possible on best practices in leading aviation nations, such as the United States,” McCormack said.
“CASA is also working on improvements to the regulations covering maintenance personnel licensing and aircraft design and manufacturing.”