RAAus - A ‘major player’ with a potentially major set of problems.
We uncover the complexities of a new era in Australian aviation and explain how ‘kicking the can down the street’ might simply delay the inevitable for RAAus.
Formerly the Australian Ultralight Federation - and operating under a myriad of exemptions and delegations - the privately operated not-for-profit company has a membership of around 9000, and a board of Directors who are charged with the responsibility of steering the RAAus company towards the vision of ‘SAFE’ Aviation (Safe, Accessible, Fun, Educational).
The board is elected and its role is to direct the organisation to achieve its stated aims while working on serving the interests of its membership. While Section 6 of the company’s own constitution doesn’t mention its members, its strategic plan does state that everything RAAus does should be ‘member-centric’. So it would be reasonable to conclude that it has consulted widely on the opinions of the membership as it has pushed through the regulatory red-tape they say is holding Australian aviation back from the brink, over the last few years. Or have they?
Corporate spin or effective management?
While we can’t definitively answer that question, what seems clear is that the ‘PR machine’ powering the organisation has its ‘Rotax’ at full ‘noise’. Michael Monck, (the ‘other’ Michael on the board who holds the position of Chairman, as opposed to Michael Linke, it’s CEO) regularly peddles a notion that RAAus is a “major player” in Aviation in Australia. Many contest that as simply a matter of opinion, and, frankly a whole lot of corporate-style spin. Others disagree and accept Mike’s claim that because “RAAus makes up 7% of all general and commercial flying” in this country, it has a right to call itself a “major player” and therefore should push hard to get what it wants from CASA, quickly (before, they say, the Aviation world as we know it ceases to exist).
The fact remains that whether the nay-sayers like it or not, the RAAus organisation is pushing forward with reforms and has the ear of CASA. Moreover, CASA seems to be peddling the notion that the organisation should take on the responsibilities (and costs) that CASA itself used to reluctantly muddle through in times gone by. In other words, what’s actually happened is that CASA has given RAAus – many would argue with a level of glee – the right to run and administer Recreational Aviation in Australia and, in time, bear both all the responsibilities and associated costs.
The current regulatory situation
While we find that CAO 95.10, 95.32 and 95.55 effectively provides the authority for members to operate their aircraft under the RAAus rules, CASA still maintains the authority to direct that amendments be made to the RAAus Operations and technical manuals. And importantly, CASA has authority over ALL recreational aircraft under the requirements of the CAA, CAR’s, CAO’s and CASR’s.
The RAAus company has made waves in the industry, and spectacularly negotiated its way through ‘self-governance’ in being accepted by CASA under the current regime. It has increased its membership (fixed it’s financial problems) and recently spent a whole heap of member’s money on IT systems that it says pave the way forward.
But now that it has CASA’s ear, many argue that RAAus seems permanently entangled in a sticky web that the CASA has weaved to either guarantee a way to better control RAAus and its member's activities, or - if one was to take a more cynical view - to plot RAA’s ultimate demise. Any other option seems too unrealistic to be feasible.
The RAAus shopping list:
CTA, Weight increase & Part 149
In the August edition of Sport Pilot, the controversial ex-RSPCA boss (and now current RAus CEO), Michaal Linke, boldly declared that RAAus “need(s) to further progress our push for CTA”. He also said that the company “needs to push for increased weight” (and) that it further “needs to transition to a part 149 organisation”.
To explain from where Michael’s ambitions are derived, one needs to perhaps to look closely at why he’s pushing the organisation down this path. Some implications could have members very concerned, if not for themselves, for the RAAus organisation as it currently exists – perhaps not in the short term, but down the track a few months, and years. From a short term perspective, while the current board sits, the view is good, the books are black and the membership is growing. But the plans for more and more, might just be the strategy that leads to the RAAus company’s ultimate demise.
CTA Restrictions lifted
Currently, if you hold a current CASA issued License and medical with appropriate endorsement, you can fly an approved RAAus aircraft into and out of controlled airspace. But if you have a CTA endorsement from an RAAus approved flying school, you can fly into CTA under direct supervision. Not great if you want to go directly to where you need to go – and find yourself navigating around those big blue lines to get there.
RAAus is pushing to change this so that RAAus members can fly approved, appropriately equipped aircraft in and out of controlled airspace, provided they have the RAAus endorsement in their logbook. Sounds logical and should be a blessing to many without too much administrative burden on the company.
Weight Restrictions increased
Now we start getting into more sticky territory. Because the RAAus MTOW restriction currently stands at 600kg for aircraft registered and administered through RAAus, the RAAus board has initiated an agreement in principle with CASA to begin increasing this weight towards 1500kg, in two or three stages.
It’s likely the first stage will be 760kg (or similar) which will bring the likes of the Victa Airtourer, Grumman AA1, Cessna 150, and Van's RV-6 into the bosom of the RAAus company.
But, the downside of opening the ‘administrative umbrella’ too wide is potentially significant, if not immediately clear to the membership right now. And it comes in the form of the increased administrative and regulatory burden that will be placed on RAAus when all those new aircraft come in to ‘play’. At 760kg or so, it’s probably manageable with an incremental increase in staff and administrative capability (all other things being equal), but at 850kg and then over 1000kg, owners of other Cessna, Beechcraft and a heap of other types, old and new (the list is very long) will be ‘rushing’ to take advantage of the reduced medical and other fees – and before the board knows it, they’re spending more than the membership fees to administer, record, investigate, support and sanction members, aircraft and flight schools around the country.
If it doesn’t bring the RAAus organisation down financially, some argue that it will potentially bring membership and registration fees up quickly, and simultaneously create an unsustainable burden on its capabilities; the result of which will be increased CASA scrutiny and an atrophic cycle that may eventually render the organisation either defunct or far less relevant.
Applying for Part 149
Here’s the real show stopper. It’s important to all members to try and understand Part 149, and it's doubtful that even CASA and the board at RAAus truly do. We still don't have all the details to provide a full commentary but we will do our best with what we know (now’s the time for a cup of tea if you’re ready to take it on board).
CASR Part 149 refers to an authorisation that Sport Aircraft Organisations (SAO’s) need to apply for in order to make them ‘co-regulators’ alongside CASA.
It means that the board of RAAus (and the management of any other SAO taking on Part 149) will have to put in place the proper instruments and capabilities to deal with issues relating to administration, complaints, accidents & incidents and (often complex) regulatory issues that might arise along the way. Essentially, the obligation shifts squarely over to RAAus to act effectively when investigating all suspected and reported regulatory breaches and to establish a robust system of sanction management, similar to that you might expect in a tribunal, for instance.
But whereas now RAAus has an internal member process for administration, incident reporting and sanctions, (like any privately run club or organisation), the organisation will be forced to comply with a Part 149 ‘co-regulation’ regime that would effectively mandate it to investigate and report incidents, accidents and other breaches to CASA, where CASA will determine the outcome, or advise on a course of action.
Where the internal regulatory regime is deemed inadequate by CASA or where there are complex issues to deal with or challenges to defend, the real risk is that those organisations would probably have to employ the services of expensive legal teams, consultants and experts to fix them or run them in a way that's deemed to satisfy CASA.
Part 149 is something that’s happening because CASA is effectively imposing it on the industry, and perhaps more importantly, because the industry, in turn, is accepting it as inevitable.
If RAAus rejects Part 149 as unacceptable (not their current trajectory), CASA will likely remove the exemptions that the company operates within currently and allow only Part 149 approved organisations to operate instead of it. That means that RAAus (and possibly other organisations, such as the Australian Warbirds Association) could cease to exist, at least in their current form.
One school of thought on Part 149 is that RAAus has been over-zealous in their ambition of late, and perhaps less focussed on thoughtful consideration of what's best for the members that are “central” to everything they do. They may have pushed the throttles forward towards a legislative nightmare; one that sees CASA demand to take over the proverbial controls while they 'threaten' to fly that aircraft into the ground, if RAAus dares to touch them.
To accept Part 149, therefore, may be to step into a minefield of red tape, cost blow-outs and lack of sustainability for RAAus. To reject it, is to potentially lose RAAus as an organisation altogether while any number of other groups take the 'big umbrella' and apply to CASA for it instead.
So, the decision to either 'reject' or 'accept' Part 149 becomes, in real terms, a choice between the lesser of two “evils” for the board at RAAus. It's a difficult choice - and perhaps worryingly for many - one it appears they have already made.
But there is another way.
Perhaps now is the time for the board to start consulting closely with important industry players like AOPA, SAAA, AWAL, HGFA and work together, towards an industry-wide rejection of Part 149 to 'knock it on the head', given that there's still some months before the deadline.
That's right - hand it back to CASA, with a “sorry, not sorry” note and a bouquet of supermarket flowers signed by the two Mike's, Ben Morgan (AOPA), the SAAA and the others that really matter in the Australian General Aviation industry.
Just maybe, the thousands of members of these organisations will instead petition our Honourable members in Canberra to change the Civil Aviation Act and finally bring back a sense of sustainability (not just a focus on safety) to the industry? Many would argue that this would be the best way forward, rather than RAAus and the others pursuing Part 149.
While the risk is that other groups might come along one day and snuggle up to CASA’s 149 project, it may be in the interests of aviation in Australia that RAAus stands up now with everyone else - and says no. To do nothing and simply accept Part 149 could be a case of kicking a problem ‘down the street’, just to trip over it later - and fall face down in a deep, muddy puddle.
If RAAus continues their current strategy of industry dominance through division, it won’t work, say their detractors. And there’s more detractors now, all paid up and speaking ever louder. The question for these members is whether RAAus is listening to the membership sufficiently to give a damn about the future of Aviation in Australia.