Welcome to the General Aviation Advocacy Group of New Zealand

MetFlight GA is free again: Let’s celebrate one step backwards to safer flying

From July 1, MetFlight GA will be publicly funded – just like mountain and marine forecasts.

This decision, buried in the 2015 Budget, brings to an end a campaign of protest from private pilots, established aviation organisations and GAA supporters. It finally acknowledges that weather information for general aviators is for the benefit of people aloft and people on the ground, and must never be subject to the “user pays” mantra.

The GAA – the New Zealand group of independent Kiwi general aviators that relies solely on user opinion and support – was among the first and the most vocal to raise opposition when the charges were imposed. We followed up on an article written by Ross St George of Massey University, titled MetFlight or MetFright? published in Pacific Wings. The GAA was also the only interest group to conduct a supporter poll, which indicated that the use of MetFlight GA had plummeted since charges were introduced.

Before subscription was imposed, about 80 percent of aviators regularly consulted MetFlight GA. That fell to about 14% after fees were introduced, according to our poll. MetFlight GA subscriptions never numbered much more than 500, according to official figures supplied to GAA.

It is worth remembering that MetService told GAA that it was not possible to remove the fee because MetFlight GA costs had to be recovered, under its mandate as a State-owned Enterprise, following the cessation of the CAA subsidy that previously supported the forecasts.

It is also worth remembering the words of former Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee, who – in attempting to answer our question: “Why should private pilots pay for safety information, when boaties, climbers and trampers do not?” – stated that private pilots were identifiable while the others were not, and that his administration had no plans to change the policy. For some history of the saga, read this previous GAA article.

CAA Director Graeme Harris was never happy with the charging policy and told us so. We now know that he worked quietly behind the scenes to find an alternative. He told GAA: “We have been lobbying hard for this for some time and knew that a favourable outcome was close, but couldn’t say much due to the secrecy around the Budget process.”

Also known to be unhappy was Airways Corporation – and this profit-directed SOE probably also played a role.

For their contributions, they’ve earned the gratitude of all Kiwi aviators. Credit is also due to all those anonymous folk who provided supporting evidence in the GAA poll, and to the organisations which defend and promote general aviation in New Zealand and strove to achieve this result.

The wind at 2000 ft on May 25, 2015, free from windyty.com using information supplied by MetService

The wind at 2000 ft on May 25, 2015, free from
windyty.com using information supplied by MetService

While the wheels of bureaucracy ground slowly on in the offices of MetService, the MoT, the CAA and Airways, tech-savvy general aviators in this country discovered that MetFlight was becoming less essential. EFB users found they could download quite accurate local weather and apply it to their low-level flight plans using data from Australia, derived from information supplied by MetService! Purists might insist on interpreting old-fashioned wind charts, but windyty.com had overtaken all that by supplying real-time actual winds and forecasts in an instantly recognisable format. And you could get it on a mobile phone.

The Budget decision means that low-level aviators in New Zealand will no longer be forced to pay in excess of $100 a year for MetService aviation forecasts. Although the cut-off date for a paid service is July 1, technical issues may delay full introduction of the free service.

Alongside this runs the introduction of a simpler, graphics-based SIGMET.

GAA supporters took a leading role in mocking the arrival of ICAO-dictated SIGMETs, which removed familiar geographical locations and replaced them with references to Lats and Longs.

Many aviators also find the CAA’s apparent resistance to plain English GA forecasts somewhat puzzling. Even more bizarre is the fact that a private individual makes such forecasts available in this country. It’s to be hoped that, in re-introducing a free MetFlight GA service, MetService does not break Ian Boag’s PEMET.

The CAA seems (whenever it suits) happy to use ICAO “global” decisions as an excuse for imposing changes that sometimes inadvertently and adversely impact on New Zealand’s general aviators (while ignoring the option to adopt the accepted ICAO policy of local, State-based member decisions that are accepted as “exceptions”, such as the one imposed by Canada that introduced a two-level system of SIGMET – one for international, IFR-based transport, and the other for local operators).

It is to be hoped that the new, free MetFlight GA service will return to its rightful place on the Airways IFIS website. This would provide a one-click solution for NOTAMs and weather information – something that contributors to the GAA poll have overwhelmingly supported.

In the meantime, claims that one New Zealand aviation organisation or another has achieved a victory in returning MetFlight GA to a free service should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

This was not a victory for the GAA, AOPA, RAANZ, SAA, Flying NZ or Gliding NZ.

It was the overdue triumph of common sense over commercial obduracy and political dogma, assisted in large part by many individuals – some of them public servants – who knew all along that the idea of charging private pilots for aviation weather information was unacceptable, unsustainable and unsafe.

CAA funding and the fuel levy: It ticks all the boxes except the one marked ‘Too hard’

The CAA feedback summary. For a copy, click on the link at the end of the story

The CAA feedback summary. For a copy, click on the link at the end of the story

Based “on information to hand, the CAA Board does not support the introduction of a fuel levy”.

This is the hidden headline in the CAA’s summary of feedback to its Stage 1 consultation. Hidden, in fact, on the final page of its document. In one throwaway line. Yet this was the most significant and most widely supported suggestion made by respondents to Stage 1 of the CAA’s funding consultation feedback.

Unfortunately, the CAA has so far declined to put its “information to hand” into GAA hands and from there into the public domain. Instead, it says that the Ministry of Transport is studying the feasibility of a fuel levy. But we know that the ministry has already stated that it considers a levy would be difficult to introduce. And when the sclerotic Ministry of Transport completes its feasibility study, the result will conveniently come too late to influence the CAA’s charging policy from 2015 to 2018.

The suspicion is that the “information to hand” indicates to the CAA Board that Air New Zealand will dramatically spit the dummy if this idea gets anywhere near birth. It would also cause friction between the Minister who oversees our publicly-controlled airline, the Prime Minister who watches over tourism and the Minister of Transport, who rules the CAA and nods to the Treasury.

When we asked CAA Director Graeme Harris to supply the “information to hand” on which his Board was basing its published opinion, he asked us to ask the Ministry of Transport to tell us what it had told his own CAA Board, and not ask him. Getting the picture, folks? Sure, it’s foggy – and it looks deliberate.

So, despite the reasoned arguments of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of New Zealand and a good many others, it is likely that the CAA will consign the fuel levy proposal to its “too hard box”.

Yet this idea ticks all the boxes in the Treasury’s definition of user-pays. The more any participant in the aviation system uses it, the more they pay to sustain the CAA. Like GST, it’s delightfully simple, because only the ultimate user pays – whether they be an airline passenger, a private pilot or just somebody who needs a part for the tractor to be delivered by air from Auckland to Westport.

Sorry, I almost forgot: Westport is about to fall off Air New Zealand’s radar…

Why should microlight pilots pay tax for roads on fuel they put in aeroplanes?

Why should microlight pilots pay tax for roads on fuel they put in aeroplanes?

The idea seems no more complicated than tax on mogas, bought by microlighters at the local service station. Part of the per-litre cost contains some money which goes towards maintaining highways which microlight pilots pray their aeroplanes will never have to use. That this tax component might be diverted by the Ministry of Transport and the IRD to help fund the CAA instead is a  question that the Transport Minister and his officials have been unable to cope with.

GAA tried to begin a dialogue about this with former Transport Minister Brownlee back in June 2013. We reminded him of his oft-stated political declaration that cross-subsidisation is neither appropriate nor fair and Treasury guidelines state that, to deal equitably with the taxpayer, determination should be made as to who benefits from the output and/or those whose actions give rise to it. The Minister eventually agreed to refer the matter to his officials in the MoT.

An entire year passed and then, in July 2014, we were advised by the Ministry that it planned to consult with a selected group of stakeholders on the content of the refund regulations in December 2014, in advance of consultation on ACC regulations. This means that the government won’t be able to consider any changes to the refund regulations until after the official ACC consultation in late 2015.

Meanwhile, of course, the status quo continues – with aviators cross-subsidising roading projects, which is neither appropriate nor fair. And it breaches the Treasury doctrine.

Gerry Brownlee: His record as Transport Minister is open to question

Gerry Brownlee: His record as Transport Minister is open to question

Sorry, I almost forgot. Brownlee was made Minister of Defence because he couldn’t be seen to resign as Minister of Transport for barging through Christchurch Airport’s security. He got a $2000 fine (but no court appearance) from CAA Director Graeme Harris. This is the ministerial equivalent of a wet rail ticket to Gisborne – and the investigation was oh-so-carefully scrutinised by a Queen’s Counsel. We just hope that Mr Harris applies the same level of due diligence to his next problem with some Pilot Joe Public and that the new Minister of Transport pays truer diligence to his email inbox than Brownlee did.

Instead of a fuel levy, the CAA seems keen on revisiting and rationalising the passenger levy. This is good news because we can see a vague hint that, in doing so, the CAA may be trying to repair the damage it wrought by punishing what the Treasury said was the User: the general aviators.

GAA, AOPA and others might have lost their complaints to Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee simply because the authorities correctly imposed an unfair set of regulations, but the resulting damage is now obvious. What was done in 2012 caused great harm to aviation in New Zealand and if the CAA’s current cost structure continued, it would cause even more.

We see hints of change, in the CAA’s summary of feedback. We can expect a revision of its charge to anyone applying for a medical examination (and hopefully the abolition of it, to be replaced by a small administrative fee). The authority’s claim that the charge also covered other costs of its medical unit was never credible and because of that, it fell short of the user-pays benchmark.

We may also see a change in the mechanism by which charges are approved. Currently, they are made by regulation, which restricts the authority’s movement in making revisions when errors are identified. This is why we were stuck with the medical application fee for three years. Finance Minister Bill English is on record in saying he would like to make it easier for the CAA to make changes within a pricing cycle, rather than at the end of one.

It’s expected that passenger levies will be equalised between national and international travellers, and that a cargo levy will be introduced. This is edging us closer to user-pays.

What is troubling is that the CAA has given its clients no clues about the authority’s projected operating costs for 2015 to 2018. Significantly, while it makes a broad-brush claim to have reduced costs and increased efficiency, it fails to provide any evidence – and none has been seen since 2012.

In August 2014, GAA attempted to discover what efficiency gains have been achieved by the CAA since the Martin Jenkins Value for Money Review of 28 February 2011.

Click here for a PDF copy of the GAA CAA Cost-saving Questions.

The letter was eventually treated as an Official Information Act request and the CAA replied:

“Pursuant to section 15(1)(a) of the Act, the CAA may charge for the supply of official information. Because of the scope of the information covered by your request, it will be necessary to impose a charge for making the information available to you.

The CAA charges are consistent with the Ministry of Justice’s Charging Guidelines for Official Information Act 1982 Requests.

We estimate that it will take 40 hours to process your request. The standard charge imposed for Official Information requests by the CAA, in accordance with the Ministry’s Charging Guidelines is $76.00 per hour; this puts the total estimated amount to be charged at $3,040.00.

Under section 15(3) of the Act, the CAA requires 50% of the estimated charge to be paid in advance, with the balance payable on invoice once the final charge has been calculated.”

This has a distinctly hollow ring. If the CAA is claiming to have made improvements, it must already have the detail to back the claim. If it doesn’t, the authority’s claim fails – therefore, why should GAA fund the authority to research itself? It’s also possible to imagine the Charging Guidelines are being misused in order to discourage requests made under the OIA, and we’ll be keeping a beady eye on how the CAA carries on in this respect.

It is tempting to surmise that

♦  the CAA’s budget is unknown to itself, and perhaps poorly controlled, and that

♦ passengers and cargo carriers will simply be made to contribute more to support a bloated bureaucracy, while general aviation will be placated by token reductions in charges.

That will help no one but the people in Asteron House.

Stage 1 of the CAA consultation plan involved asking us who should pay. Stage 2 will provide us with information about how much it will cost.

But the CAA has missed the important middle stage, where it tells us who it has decided will pay – and invites more feedback. Getting it right is better than meeting a deadline, as 2012 proved.

In overlooking Stage 1B, the authority sends a clear message to aviators:

Our vision of consultation is not the same as yours.

Here’s a shortcut to the CAA’s 2014_funding_feedback

The CAA funding review, Stage 1 – or was it Faze 1?

The CAA summary: for a PDF copy, click on the link at the end of the story

The CAA summary: for a PDF copy, click on the link at the end of the story

When two opposing mindsets approach collision, they may mirror the laws of magnetism; the closer they get, the more strongly they’ll repel one another.

We are talking about – on the one hand – pen-pushing and bean-counting bureaucrats who do not fly but instead toil and fret beneath leaden Wellington skies and – on the other – free-thinking aviators who rejoice in loosing the surly bonds of Earth and perhaps touching the hand of God, when God (Who is free to all applicants) and MetFlight (which is not) indicate suitable conditions.

General aviators and the CAA are poles apart.

In this particular case, we are talking about Stage 1 of the CAA’s Funding Review process. It was designed to derive customer opinion on how the CAA should be funded. The Authority claims to have sent emails to 29,000 addresses and it promoted the feedback request on the CAA’s unfriendly website.

The CAA also funded a limited number of seminars at Nelson, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Queenstown, Auckland and Wellington. Despite GAA’s efforts to get the CAA to run seminars at the same venues that it uses for AvKiwi seminars, it declined on the grounds that this would be too expensive. GAA said that GA pilots in the outlying provinces should have been given the opportunity to participate in these seminars without having to travel long distances or pay for overnight accommodation.

What were the results?

From the (alleged) tens of thousands of people who were told about the consultation:

  • about 170 attended the 12 seminars (an average attendance of 14)
  • 133 submissions were sent to the authority and
  • a handful of people completed the consultation questionnaire. We can’t quite work out the precise number, but it appears to be less than 100.

This exercise in consultation was a serious failure. When the lowly, totally unfunded GAA mounted a campaign against Air New Zealand, which sought to import foreign aircrew, almost 240 supporters signed the submission (and we won). The number of GAA co-submitters opposing the 2012 CAA increases – 620 – was almost five times that of those submitting to Stage 1 of this funding consultation.

So why did this expensive first phase of consultation, in statistical terms, crash and burn?

We can see the fault lines in what was intended to be an inclusive process but ended up serving no one’s interests except those who initiated it: the CAA, guided by the Treasury.

First, the Stage 1 consultation document proved that what the CAA needs is not more policy analysts. It needs a competent sub-editor. The document was far too long, it contained needless repetitition and the author(s) sometimes wandered off-topic, introducing issues that seemed to be (and remain) irrelevant to the main concern: who should pay to maintain the CAA?

The survey document failed at the first hurdle of any trainee journalist’s first exam. Will it be interesting? No, it was not. It lacked purpose. It lacked a story and it was not objective. It lacked a good headline and a short summary. It made assumptions and it was lazily constructed. It contained (and wasted) too many words. It was very boring.

Whoever wrote that document also managed to reverse the concept of a multi-choice examination by offering multiple questions but only a single means of reply. Sometimes three questions were asked, with only a Yes/Substantially/Partially/No/ tick-box covering all three. It was impossible to answer.

The result was a dog’s breakfast for any prospective respondent and for the poor, anonymous person at CAA tasked with unscrambling the resulting mess.

Little wonder, then, that so many felt very ticked off indeed and, in despair, consigned the thing to their waste paper bin.

A second reason was the CAA’s insistence that its national seminar programme to explain the process was entirely satisfactory – and its subsequent refusal to revisit what was without doubt a serious problem, despite widespread warnings. The audiences voted with their feet, parked them in front of the telly and stayed well away.

The CAA seems incapable of accepting that its powerful position as a Wellington-centric organisation must be balanced by respect for, and investment in meeting, the geographically diverse challenges faced by its customers. In its somewhat obtuse response to complaints about this seminar issue – and that of the future cost of audits to remotely based clients – the authority said that it had heard. But it is clear to all that it will not listen.

The third and perhaps most important challenge for CAA in dealing with this failure is old and simple.

People in GA do not trust the CAA and many would prefer to have as little to do with it as possible.

The authority has alienated itself from its customer base by presenting an authoritarian, rather than an administrative, image. It should not be surprised by poor feedback, either on funding for the CAA or the reporting of incidents. It may prefer to run meetings at Asteron House with its approved aviation-related organisations. But it is disconnected from the core constituency.

The CAA cannot rest content by merely claiming that it made every effort to consult. It sent 29,000 messages, around 28,750 of which went unanswered. This statistic alone shows that the CAA needs to work further on reducing waste and improving efficiency.

In the CAA feedback report, the authority claims it has done much to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Some months ago, GAA asked for the precise detail about cost-efficiency progress at the CAA, but was told this would take more than 40 hours to research and the CAA would need to charge GAA more than $3000 for them to find out how well they were doing, so that we could tell you, their customer, just how much smarter they have become.

Is it any wonder that many aviators in New Zealand feel powerless to speak against an opaque authority that they believe has been unfairly ripping them off since 2012 and has done serious damage to flight trainers, lower-level business operators and their own flying pals, some of whom threw in the towel when they saw how much it would cost to apply for a medical examination?

The CAA cannot expect to hear from people who do not trust it. Crucially, these clients don’t believe the authority trusts them either, and the Director has so far failed to promote an inclusive and honest spirit of partnership between his authority and GA, or what is known as the Just Culture where regulator and aviator unite to promote safety – without the threat of blame.

No one in general aviation can help the CAA to improve itself, when they see behaviour patterns based on blind regulation which, for example, requires one pilot to dob in a colleague who might be prosecuted and lose either his hobby or the roof over his family’s head. All of this is the responsibility of a Director backed by a bewildering museum of rules and regulation, yet apparently lacking the courage to pursue a collaborative approach.

The Stage 1 summary’s author also seems to reject any role for the CAA in promoting a vibrant aviation sector in New Zealand, when he or she states that the CAA “is a safety regulator not an economic regulator”.

This is sophistry. Everyone in the CAA contributes to the gross domestic product, along with doctors, nurses, care workers, panelbeaters, funeral directors and you and I. The author knows full well what damage the authority’s misguided actions, which were exclusively based on funding the CAA in line with Treasury’s user-pays dictat, have done to economic activity in New Zealand’s general aviation sector since 2012.

What is even more troubling is that the author seems to be out of touch with colleagues elsewhere, who know better how the world actually turns.

For example, the UK CAA has enthusiastically adopted its role as a key player in developing an expanding and innovative aviation industry. This welcome epiphany is based primarily on the fact that the UK CAA realised that it had to cease damaging its own customer base through relentless, heavy-handed regulation and spiralling costs of compliance.

Regulation (rightly based on safety concerns) and innovation for the public good (which involves the acceptance of risk) are no longer officially considered to be mutually exclusive in the United Kingdom.

It will also come as no surprise that the New Zealand CAA Board is quietly positioning itself to reject the most popular feedback suggestion for CAA funding, which is based on the purest application of user-pays in aviation: A fuel levy.

♦ We’ll try to analyse this curious response in the next part of the story. There is also, potentially, some good news.

Here’s a shortcut to the CAA’s 2014_funding_feedback

(It bypasses the CAA website.)

The EFB is state-of-the-art, but MetService is state-of-the-archaic

AvPlan in action, versus MetService inaction. (Picture courtesy of AvSoft)

AvPlan in action, versus MetService inaction. (Picture courtesy of AvSoft)

The Electronic Flight Bag, or EFB, has become so commonplace in cockpits around the world that almost everyone with a knowledge of, or interest in, aviation is an enthusiast.

For the benefit of those with neither (such as the Chairperson of MetService, Sarah Smith, and the Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee), we have included a picture of one.

It’s an iPad (or sometimes an Android tablet device) and – with EFB software installed – it removes

♦ a printed AIP manual weighing about 2 kg
♦ a set of large and unwieldy printed charts
♦ a printed weather forecast and
♦ a hard copy of the NOTAMs

This 21st Century innovation is now considered so important to cost- and time-saving for all aviators (as well as making their operations far safer) that it is now required equipment in many international airliner cockpits.

Our own Airways Corporation says it is committed to the EFB concept. It has licensed AIP access to commercial EFB developers so that they can integrate the AIP in their applications. Among them are Australia’s AvPlan and OzRunways, and the Swiss-based Air Navigation Pro. GAA also understands from Airways that it would very much like to include MetFlightGA weather forecasts on its site, too, but can’t do this because State Owned Enterprise MetService owns the forecast and its fellow State Owned Enterprise, Airways, won’t pay for it*.

Dear Reader, that’s the failure of joined-up government and efficient SEOs neatly summed up.

Although GAA has objected to Airways’ behaviour in making it almost impossible for an unlicensed, non-commercial developer of even a simple macro to provide users easy and free access to AIP data, there is no doubt that its commercial partners are doing a very good job of offering all aviators a hugely improved source of planning information – and at highly competitive prices.

A hugely improved source of information, that is, apart from the New Zealand Weather.

New Zealand general aviators have several choices of EFB software designed for our environment, of which the leading candidates are OzRunways and AvSoft’s AvPlan, both originating from Australia. It would be unfair to include the highly popular AirNav Pro, because that’s a global generic product whose developers can’t be expected to focus quite so well on our marketplace.

This story is not a product review, although it began as one. It has to do with the weather.

What I noticed, as I explored AvPlan, was the difference between its downloaded weather, automatically applied to a flight plan, and what I was getting from MetFlightGA. The winds were clearly different, so where was AvPlan accessing the weather?

An email exchange with AvPlan Support rapidly supplied the answer.

AvPlan (and probably OzRunways) does not access MetFlight weather forecasts because MetService charges for them. AvSoft’s Bevan Anderson said: “AvPlan does not link directly to MetService. TAFs and METARs for the four main airports are available from other sources, and we use a global forecast model for winds aloft.”

The Australian version of AvPlan accesses weather forecasts from Airservices, because GA forecasts in Australia are free. And in Australia, filing a flight plan costs nothing as well. Which is why AvPlan for NZ has an option to File a Flight Plan (New Zealand aviators are advised to avoid this $10 button).

So there it is, in a nutshell. Buy AvPlan for $99 a year (which includes the VNCs and the full AIP) and you get one of the finest flight planning aids in the world, on your iPad; but minus the New Zealand aviation forecasts (and an important piece of functionality) because Gerry Brownlee’s daft dogma of User Pays and MetService’s ruthlessness in extracting money from private pilots makes no commercial sense to either us or the folks who wrote this EFB software.

But there’s more…

We understand that Airways doesn’t like the current arrangements and would prefer GA weather forecasts to be returned to its IFIS website. We also understand that CAA Director Graeme Harris is uncomfortable with the charging regime and would like it to change.

But what are the bean-counters at MetService doing?

They’ve just announced a 4 percent increase in the MetFlightGA subscription, forcing it north of $100 a year! In doing so, they claimed that this was the first increase in nine years, and that few others could claim to have maintained charges at 2005 levels.

The problem with this claim is that MetFlightGA was free to us, until August 2011…

* Plus ça change… Des Lines recalls: This impasse is reminiscent of an incident that occurred back in the 80s just after Air New Zealand Mk1 and NAC merged. The new management structure decided that to achieve efficiency, they would split the company up into separate “business units” that would be run on a “commercial” basis.

Not long after this happened, a B737 became unserviceable in Dunedin with a minor defect that required an engineer to fix and sign off. The call came through from Airline Ops to domestic engineering in Christchurch, to send an engineer down on the next scheduled flight. In the past, an engineer only had to front up with his toolbox and a free-of-charge ticket would be written for him to travel to Dunedin. However, the rules had now changed and when the engineer phoned his manager from the check-in counter to say that he was being asked to pay a full commercial fare before he would be issued with a ticket, his manager told him to return to headquarters.

The flight arrived in Dunedin and no engineer disembarked. A panic call was put through to Engineering HQ in Christchurch to find out what had happened to the engineer who was going to fix the Boeing, still sitting on the tarmac. The engineering manager replied that he considered a full commercial fare was far too expensive and in order to keep his business unit profitable, he was sending the engineer down by train, which was going to be a much more cost-effective option.

The problems of inter-business unit charges were rapidly sorted after that!

This analogy has stark similarities to the present debacle we have over free MetFlightGA access. Individual SOEs are putting their commercial imperatives ahead of public safety issues, and this is unacceptable nonsense.

Revealed! Why only pilots pay for weather forecasts

Brownlee's User Pays policy: If we don't know your name, we won't charge you

Brownlee’s User Pays policy: If we don’t know your name, we won’t charge you

Why do boaties and trampers enjoy free weather forecasts, but recreational aviators must pay? The straight answer comes, at long last, from almost the highest authority in the land: the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Gerry Brownlee.

Put simply, it’s because the authorities know the names and addresses of the pilots. But they can’t identify the boaties and trampers. If they could, they’d charge them. And if Brownlee let them do that, he’d commit political suicide.

GAA has been quietly waging a campaign to abolish MetService subscriptions for MetFlight weather forecasts. We have written to MetService, Minister of Transport Brownlee, the Prime Minister, the chairpersons of CAA and Airways, the CEO of the Ministry of Transport and the transport spokespersons of all major political parties.

At virtually every turn, we have been stonewalled – and in some instances completely ignored. The common courtesy of either a substantive or an interim reply has not been received from either the CEO of the Ministry of Transport or from the CAA, despite way more than 20 working days having elapsed.

The case is simple. Weather forecasts are a critical safety issue for general aviators. Our recent poll of users showed that only 75 out of 500 responders were using the $100-a-year MetFlight service, whereas 80 percent of them consulted it when it was free. If you doubt our statistics, check the figures we attained from the Medical Survey, which indicated a 5.8% decrease in applications for Class 2 medicals since the CAA introduced its $313 application fee. Gerry Brownlee, in a subsequent letter to a GAA supporter, said that his figures from the CAA showed an “expected” 5.4% decrease in applications for a medical.

The case is also straightforward. GAA supporters cannot see why they should pay for weather forecasts when boaties and trampers get such vital specialist information at no charge.

The logic is plain: it is perfectly obvious that many private pilots are using alternative sources of weather information, such as home weather stations on the internet-based website Underground Weather, TV or other offshore internet-based services.

Why? Because they refuse to pay for something that others get for free. They also know it costs MetService virtually nothing to produce the forecasts because GA recreational weather is a by-product of information that has already been generated for commercial operators. In effect, the cost has already been recovered.

So let’s take a look at how the powers-that-be have so far dealt with our plea: for an interdepartmental initiative to create alternative funding for general aviation forecasts, and get them re-integrated with IFIS, so we can once again obtain all the vital weather and NOTAM information from a single source at no direct cost (and preferably, in plain English).

Sarah Smith: A selective reader of letters

Sarah Smith: A selective reader of letters

First, Des Lines wrote to Sarah Smith, chair of Meteorological Services of New Zealand Ltd, suggesting that the Crown and the three relevant State enterprises – MetService, Airways and the CAA – and the Ministry of Transport could enter into an agreement under Section 7 of the SOE Act, under which they would supply the forecasting service to Airways, to be provided within IFIS in return for the payment by the Crown of the whole or part of the cost.

He said: Airways have indicated to us in our correspondence with them, that:

‘It is possible from a technical point of view, for the weather information to be reinstated to the IFIS website as you outline; however, Airways does not own that information or the products so we cannot make any commitment to provide them.’

The MoT has a long-standing contract with MetService, generating 44% of its total revenue. We note that this contract is up for renewal this year. We suggest that MetService in the interests of corporate social responsibility may be prepared to forgo a reduction of $43,000 pa [its current estimated income from 429 MetFlight subscribers] in revenue and provide free GA weather in similar manner to that provided for mountain and marine recreational activities.

We also note that the MetService budgets provided for the donation of $210,000 in advertising value to charities in the 2011/12 year (up 86% on the previous year) and also $157,000 in the 2013/14 year.

Could not a portion of this budget be offset towards supplying GA weather information to Airways to host on their IFIS website?

♦ To read the entire letter, click here

The letter to MetService was copied to Prime Minister John Key; Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee; SEOs Minister Tony Ryall; CAA Chair Nigel Gould; Airways New Zealand Chair Ms Susan Paterson; and Martin Matthews, Chief Executive, Ministry of Transport, requesting their participation in seeking a collaborative solution to the problem.

We got this reply from Ms Smith:

Thank you for your letter of 20 April 2014 in regards to the provision of weather information to the General Aviation community. I appreciate your concern for aviation safety, and I can assure you that MetService shares that concern and has a strong professional focus on minimising weather-related risks to the wider aviation sector.

However, as a State Owned Enterprise, MetService is expected to operate in a commercial manner, which is not consistent with the suggestion that it provide services to the GA community free of charge. As you have noted in your letter, this service has in the past been provided at no cost to the user, through sponsorship of the service by the Civil Aviation Authority. In the absence of some other funding arrangement, the existing subscription service allows GA pilots to access the weather information they need, at a modest cost, without compromising MetService’s position as a SOE.

Did Ms Smith actually read Des Lines’s letter? It would appear not. All the suggestions within the letter were completely ignored in her reply. (Extract from the MetService Mission Statement: To operate in a socially responsible manner, with particular regard to MetService employees, the environment, the community, and our customers.)

Ed Sims: Reveals a mystery initiative

Ed Sims: Reveals a mystery initiative

Ed Sims, CEO of Airways, demonstrated just how utterly disconnected SOEs can be, in his reply:

Airways has an ongoing and constructive dialogue with MetService regarding the provision of met data to support aviation activities across New Zealand and the Oceanic airspace, for which Airways is responsible.

Airways receives met data provided under a commercial agreement with the MetService. Airways respects and acknowledges that it is the MetService’s data and we are bound both by the terms of use and (as MetService is State Owned Enterprise itself) the commercial grounds upon which the data is provided.

Airways would like to incorporate the met data into our IFIS website and continues to discuss the terms upon which that would be provided with the Met Service.

I acknowledge the proposal you have made and Airways will work with the other parties you have referenced in your letter, as required, to make met data available. The commercial terms on which this data can be made available are yet to be established.

Airways is aware that the Ministry of Transport has offered to take the lead to liaise with the MetService on its proposed response to your letter.

Really? None of the above appears to match reality (or, if it does, no one outside Mr Sims’s office seems aware of, or is prepared to talk to GAA about, this surprising initiative – least of all Ms Smith, the Ministry of Transport or the CAA).

From the other political party transport spokespersons who received Des Lines’s letter, there has been not so much as an acknowledgement of receipt.

Gerry Brownlee: His letter deserves a big booby prize

Gerry Brownlee: His letter deserves a big booby prize

Except for one: the killer response from Minister of Transport Brownlee, who told us why aviators are being charged for their weather forecasts. He signed off the following astonishing admission:

The government’s policy is that, where appropriate, users pay for services that they receive. There are no plans to change this policy for weather information available to recreational pilots.

You note that mountain and marine weather is provided free of charge. This service is provided free of charge because there is no practical way of charging trampers and boaties for mountain and marine weather respectively. [Our emphasis]

That must go down as Public Servant Letter of the Year, as one GAA supporter commented.

In a reply from Brownlee in June 2013, regarding the fuel excise tax collected from aircraft using MOGAS and used for predominantly road funding activities, the Minister said:

Most of the revenue from fuel excise duty goes to the National Land Transport Fund, which funds roads and other land transport activities. However, the government recognises that people using petrol off-road also pay this excise duty. Therefore, some of the revenue collected from excise duty pays for search and rescue activities.

To use a similar logic – as the Minister states in the ‘user pays’ case for not funding GA met information – in the case of search and rescue activities, there is a clearly defined user of the rescue services. If government policy is to be fairly and equitably introduced across all sectors, the cost of a rescue operation should be passed on to those who give rise to or benefit from it: those rescued.

The ‘user pays’ philosophy of this government as espoused by its present Minister of Transport is being selectively applied in a way which is inappropriate, inconsistent and unfair. The Department of Conservation has increased its funded contract with MetService from $106,000 to $226,000 a year for weather information. This indicates an awareness of a social responsibility towards public safety in the mountains and back country, on the part of Conservation Minister Nick Smith. Why, then, are Brownlee, his Ministry of Transport and the CAA not supporting similar funding of weather information for recreational aviation?

GAA has told MetService and the CAA that it believes the forecaster may be in breach of its contract to supply weather services under the terms of CAA Rule Part 174, namely this clause:

174.9 Issue of certificate

An applicant is entitled to a meteorological service certificate if the Director is satisfied that

(3) the granting of the certificate is not contrary to the interests of aviation safety.

GAA says that charging recreational pilots for weather forecasts

♦ breaches the spirit of the contract,

♦ is anomalous to the policy adopted for other recreational users and

♦ is contrary to the interests of aviation safety.

In this, we’re supported by a comment made by Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs of the High Court of Australia:

Where it is possible to guard against a foreseeable risk which, though perhaps not great, nevertheless cannot be called remote or fanciful, by adopting a means which involves little difficulty or expense, the failure to adopt such means will in general be negligent.

[Gibbs, Chief Justice Sir Harry. Turner v State of South Australia (1982). High Court of Australia before Gibbs CJ, Murphy, Brennan, Deane and Dawson JJ.]

If you want the context, it’s in section 1.4 of the following document:

http://www.casa.gov.au/wcmswr/_assets/main/lib100077/gold-coast-aero-study-1109.pdf

GAA supporters’ reactions to Brownlee’s response indicate a widespread feeling that the Minister is way out of his depth (to put it politely). Here’s a selection…

Ask Gerry Brownlee when his government intends that the principle of ‘User Pays’ will be applied to the inmates of the Prison Service! After all, they also are a ‘captive group’ and easily identifiable, like pilots are.

To try to justify the present position (and anomaly re access to recreational aviation weather) as a user pays item, when no other recreational activity that is weather-influenced or -dependent is treated likewise, on the grounds that it is ‘not practical’ is illogical. If the Minister (and Government) wanted to be pure and consistent about this, under ‘user pays’, access to outdoors recreational and maritime weather should be put on a ‘user-pays’ footing. People wishing access to such products should have to hold an account with MetService or log on in the same way to the tailored weather information site (which mountain and maritime are) and be charged for the delivery.

Of course, the numbers involved suggest that there are no votes in applying the policy equitably. I suspect a grass roots political campaign will be required on both the ‘fairness and safety fronts’. Make noise…create turbulence, create discomfort.

I read the response of the Honourable Minister from Ilam where he stated that the only reason they don’t collect ‘user pays’ fees from the likes of boaties is that there is no practical way of collecting. Of course they could indeed restrict access to marine forecasts and maritime safety information if they so chose and make it available via subscription. He knows that the government would not consider doing that because they would be lynched by the masses. Because of the pervasiveness of warped thinking like this from both elected and appointed officials, it is critical that the work you do continues.

I question the logic of the Hon Gerry Brownlee. If it is indeed the government’s policy to charge users for services they receive and there is no practical way to charge trampers and boaties, then why is free weather provided to them? That is surely the reverse argument.

I suspect it is because the Minister of Transport knows that not doing so would blatantly disregard the safety of these two groups and give him too much bad press.

Just thought I would pen a quick note to say thank you for sticking up for GA as a whole and taking the CAA and other government agencies to task on what seems like fairly basic, common sense matters. The GAA team are doing great work and have given a voice to a somewhat disparate group that as individuals tend to feel we can’t change anything.

Sadly, I fear that the statement in your letter, that it will take a serious incident or accident before anything happens, will in the fullness of time prove accurate. Ever the optimist, one might hope than the coming general election might provide a small amount of leverage to get the slow-moving wheels of government turning!

Pity they cannot see it from a safety side of things.

Not sure I follow the logic of Gerry Brownlee’s rationale for not charging boaties and trampers. Why does he consider it important that these groups be given the benefit of a weather service, just on the off-chance that they shoot off into the mountains or fire up the outboard to go out fishing? If, by his logic, these groups wanted this service, then it’s easy for MetService to offer it at a price; otherwise, they set off at their own risk. (Not suggesting that they should be charged in the first place.)

It’s a shame that your letters to certain parties have met with complete silence… total arrogance on their part and shows the true nature of those who wield power in our society!

I was stunned by the response from the Minister of Transport. It shows once again the arrogance and acute lack of understanding that I have come to expect from this individual.

What he has effectively said is that he is happy for recreational aviation users to subsidise all other recreational users of MetService’s products because he can’t think of a way of charging boaties and trampers. I think he means there are too many boaties and trampers (who vote) for him to even dare. We, on the other hand, are small and vulnerable and can therefore be exploited.

I feel the people that make the decisions here are really just the lowest political animals. Envy and jealousy are the prime movers.

Your letter was very good and the points you made were very relevant. The responses were pathetic and indicated clearly that the writers knew absolutely nothing about aviation. I didn’t expect the Minister to know much about it but I would have hoped that some aviation expertise still existed at Airways or in the Met service and that sound advice would have been passed upwards to the Minister. However, my thinking is obviously way out of date. Anyone with real aviation experience appears to be excluded from employment with MOT, CAA, Airways Corp, MetService or any other associated Government department.

Love Brownlee’s response about mountain and marine forecast. No practical way? Hullo? The internet? User pays means you use the service, you subscribe to it?

I’m inspired by your refusal to give up in the face of such a shabby response from the government. The letter from the Hon Gerry Brownlee is the most revealing on what a tough battle we all face. But as long as you have the will, I implore you to keep fighting.

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can make such a simple GGF response (Go get f*****) so convoluted. Keep rattling the cage! The least we can do is keep them all working overtime! Cynical, I know, but the response was so predictable.

Brownlee’s letter beggars belief: just because they can charge us, they do! I accept that if trampers, boaties etc only need the sort of general forecast as provided by MetService on their website, or via TV News at 6, then there is little he can do about it, and I don’t know of any specific site that they might want that can be locked away and only accessed by a credit card!

There is no doubt in my mind that the current charges are degrading aviation safety as people are not using services such as the weather information, they are moving away from GA aviation into aircraft that are not as rugged or forgiving, and the deteriorating relationship between industry/user and CAA means CAA is not getting the feedback it needs to maintain the high standard we saw before charges were imposed.

As predicted, and as I have always maintained, the statistics will show an increasing accident rate. This is becoming very clear. For the whole of last year, I see that on the Aviation Safety Network site, which records accidents, there were five fatal accidents that killed seven people. Up to 11 April this year, the total was above this – six fatal accidents and eight dead. From what I am seeing and hearing, it will get worse.

The sad thing is that the real cost of fatal accidents (I remember seeing a figure of something like a million dollars per person is the real cost) far exceeds the amount of money the government is collecting.

Great work. Although Brownlee doesn’t care, keeping the pressure on may help in the long run.

If Brownlee insists that the reason they provide service to boaties and trampers for free is because they cannot find a way to charge them, then why provide that service at all? Surely if there is no way for users to pay…which, as they go to great lengths to point out is the reason for being of the SOEs… then users shouldn’t get the service!

It is a complete defiance of logic to propose that a service be given for free because they can’t figure out how to charge for it. This is, in fact, telling aviators nothing more than that they are easy targets.

The actual reason, of course, is one of safety – but to admit that would automatically demand the same be provided to aviators. What a bunch of pricks (pardon my language).

I note that all of the replies are very good (at dodging the bullet). They all have some half-hearted, lame excuse as why we should pay. The BS about not being able to charge mountaineering and other sports because of a mailing problem almost qualifies as the best public servant letter of the year.

When I had a dispute with CAA and associated departments, I gave them a public service answer: “The matter is under investigation.” I discovered that that was the curved ball they could not catch.

With respect to Brownlee’s statement that charging hikers is impractical, it is my belief that charges for trail maintenance and other amenities are routinely included in the hut fees we pay. Surely weather could easily be charged for in a similar manner if there were political will? This leads me to believe that his statement is an excuse for inconsistency rather than a measured decision.

I also believe that any examination of the national benefits of safer flying experience vs the costs of search and rescue and subsequent medical emergencies or lost economic contributions would easily justify providing weather to pilots, as it presumably justifies providing it to hikers and climbers.

We are lucky to have you pushing on these items. My feeling from the tone – although overtly negative – is that this time you will get results.

(Let us hope we do…)

♦ Read Ross St George’s 2011 article on the subject, first published in Pacific Wings: MetFlight or MetFright

The 2014 GAA User Survey results, Part 2: Aviators are sick of the ‘arrogant’ Medical Unit

Typical comment: It is getting prohibitively expensive to keep up

Typical comment: It is getting prohibitively expensive to keep up

Thanks to the $300-plus medical application fee, general aviators are voting with their shrinking wallets and abandoning the Class 2 medical in favour of the Recreational Pilot’s Licence or microlighting, according to our survey of users.

But the core message they are sending to the CAA is one of continuing outrage at the authority’s seemingly invulnerable Medical Unit and its more than $2 million annual costs.

Most amusing comment: My dear wife, Margaret. She holds the purse strings

Most amusing comment: My dear wife, Margaret. She holds the purse strings

Of roughly 450 respondents, 52.49 percent held Class 1 medical certification, 31.67% Class 2, 8.6% RPL and 6.94% microlight. Of the 376 who answered the question “Have you made a change in licence application to a RPL in the last 12 months?” 5.59% said they had. But this result may be conservative, because some of those surveyed were Class 1 holders, and less likely to move to the RPL.

More significant was “If you do not already hold a RPL, are you considering changing to that licence in the next year?” Of the 360 who answered, 18% said yes, and a further 18% were undecided.

Typical comment: Going to get one just in case the CAA gets even more out of touch with reality!

Typical comment: Going to get one just in case the CAA gets even more out of touch with reality!

Of the 100 respondents who already hold a RPL, 62% said this was to protect their ability to continue flying recreationally and 48% attributed their move to RPL to the medical application fee.

The overwhelming weight of opinion in this aspect of CAA charges involved the scale of the fee and, perhaps more importantly, the widespread perception that it is “a rort” and unfairly discriminates against the over-40s.

Typical comment: Seriously considering. Enough is enough

Typical comment: Seriously considering. Enough is enough

One respondent commented: “If you’re going to charge us an amount that adds up to about three or four flying lessons, then at least make the service worthwhile.” Another said: “I will not pay the CAA fees. I obtain my Class 2 overseas and fly on an overseas licence.”

[However, this practice is not quite as straightforward as it may seem. The CAA rule on this is:

If he has a New Zealand licence issued on the basis of a current foreign licence, he can use the NZ licence on the medical used for recognition/issue. Once that expires, he needs a NZ Medical (the same as any other NZ licence holder).

If he is using a CASA or FAA licence that has been validated for use in NZ, then he is exercising the privileges of that licence and it must remain current. A foreign licence can be validated for a maximum of six months (but never longer than the current foreign medical).

One way around the problem (which some are already doing) is to have your aircraft on a foreign register (such as American registration) and then you can continue to fly it in New Zealand on a foreign medical. The catch to this is that the aircraft must be maintained by someone who has the same foreign aircraft maintenance licence.]

Typical comment: CAA fee may force this change - totally unreasonable

Typical comment: CAA fee may force this change – totally unreasonable

Of the 463 who answered the question “With regard to your interaction with the CAA Medical Unit, either personally or through your Medical Examiner, have you found them to be receptive to the advice of other specialists?” 58.1% had no experience of dealing with the Medical Unit, but of those who had, 130 – or 28% of the total – said the unit was not receptive to the advice of other specialists, and only 13.82% (64 people) thought it was.

One said: “I have found certain ‘personalities’ within the medical unit to be arrogant, threatening, unresponsive to details provided at their request, and people who would have driven any other commercial business into receivership.” Another said: “Revolting outfit to deal with” and the term “arrogant” also featured in several other comments.

Typical comment: Law unto themselves. Would never trust them to act in the pilot's interest

Typical comment: Law unto themselves. Would never trust them to act in the pilot’s interest

The vast majority (315 out of 468 who answered) condemned the principle of User Pays as it is applied by the CAA, with many saying that the requirement for medicals was mainly to protect the public and therefore the public should pay for them. One respondent said: “In the case of the GA pilot, you could argue that the ultimate beneficiary is the individual pilot, and therefore it seems right that they should pay. The most contentious issue in my eyes is the high level of the fee charged.”

Typical comment: A distorted view of "user pays" is used. This is clear abuse of a monopoly power

Typical comment: A distorted view of “user pays” is used. This is clear abuse of a monopoly power

But the strongest reaction of all was to the question: “Do you consider that there is sufficient transparency of costs incurred in the operation of the CAA Medical Unit?”

Typical comment: No way on earth, unless they are way over-staffed and incredibly inefficient, can the current costs be justified. Transparency? Yet to see it

Typical comment: No way on earth, unless they are way over-staffed and incredibly inefficient, can the current costs be justified. Transparency? Yet to see it

A surprising 88% of 468 respondents said No, with a further 9.36% (43) undecided and only 2.55% (12) saying Yes.

“$2.2 million to operate a medical unit is ridiculous. Outsource their work,” said one. “The biggest problem, however, will not so much be the transparency but the lack of desire or ability within the medical unit to find less expensive ways to conduct the unit,” said another.

An expat across the ditch commented: “In Australia, we pay $70 to the CASA medical unit (roughly). I just did my medical in New Zealand and was disgusted to see that apart from the $313 I paid the CAA and the $140 I paid my doctor, I still needed to pay an additional $75 to an assessor in Wellington as well. How many filters does the medical of a healthy 26-year-old have to go through to get approval?”

We put these findings to CAA Director Graeme Harris.

He said: “They certainly reflect a challenge for the CAA in trying to overcome what appears from the survey results to be a combination of dissatisfaction and confusion on the part of some respondents to your survey.

“The international aviation medical certification regime certainly seems to generate a lot of passion and NZ is no different to other countries in that regard. It is also apparent that quite a few people have not caught up with the changes made to the Civil Aviation Act in 2002 as a result, partly, of the Scott-Gorman report. From time to time, I still hear from people who think the highly decentralised medical certification system of the 1990s is still in place. In fact medical certification powers, and related responsibilities, have resided with the Director since the 2002 introduction of Part 2A of the Act. The exercise of those powers and the oversight of related certification and delegations are just part of providing the State Aviation Medical Certification system funded by the Medical Certificate Application fee. Unfortunately, much of this is invisible to many people. In this regard, I note that the Regulations Review Committee in its recent judgment dismissing complaints about the 2012 amendment to the Civil Aviation Charges Regulations (No.2) 1991 made the observation that the ‘wording regarding the fee for a medical certificate application could usefully be adjusted to make it clear that the fee covers a broader range of services, such as the medical certification assurance process carried out by the CAA’s medical unit, than exclusively administrative tasks’. I think this is a useful suggestion as the current description of the fee could certainly give the mistaken impression that it is just funding an administrative function.”

Pick the bones out of that, if you can, and perhaps wonder why you as “the user” should pay for a “medical certification assurance process”. Is this just obfuspeak for “checking the report”? And exactly what other services are aviators funding in this “broader range”?

Mr Harris continued:

“On some of the other medical matters raised, it is worth noting that we currently have development work under way – including ideally a move to on-line applications – that should improve the efficiency and timeliness of the certification function. Overall, however, I’m very confident that the medical decision-making of the unit is of the highest standard.

“I’m sure that there is always room for improvement but I’m also very confident that the unit is effective in protecting the public interest.”

Mr Harris did not volunteer any information on why the on-line application process (promised 18 months ago by Minister of Transport Brownlee) has apparently stalled without even a hint of any progress beyond the most basic level of project planning. Neither did he offer any other hope of cost-savings in the Medical Unit, nor any change in the application fee policy.

But at least the Director can be in no doubt about what aviators think of his authority’s behaviour in general, and the Medical Unit’s in particular.

In our survey,

♦ 31.37% of respondents said they had more than 30 years experience in aviation

♦ 16.63% declared 20 to 30 years experience

♦ 22.53% had 10 to 20 years

♦ 18.11% had five to 10 years and

♦ 11.37% had less than five years experience

♦ To download Part 2 of the survey as a PDF, click here: Survey No 1 Part 2 Med

The 2014 GAA User Survey results, Part 1: MetFlight is a disaster

Typical comment: Too expensive

Typical comment: Too expensive*

The first GAA user survey of 2014 reveals strong evidence of the shocking state of weather forecasting services for recreational aviators in New Zealand.

It shows beyond doubt that the move to paid subscriptions for MetFlight has:

♦ dramatically reduced the number of people seeking MetFlight forecasts

♦ sent former MetFlight/IFIS users to less reliable sources

♦ probably contributed insignificant revenue towards offsetting MetService costs, and

♦ failed to support the mantra of “safety”

Typical comment: It encouraged you to pick up the NOTAMS at the same time

Typical comment: It encouraged you to pick up the NOTAMS at the same time

Just under 500 GAA supporters completed our first survey, which ran from December 2013 to February 2014 and covered Met services and the CAA’s medical policies.

When forecasts were free from the Airways IFIS website (and for a time, the MetFlight site), 79.86% of 437 responders (or 349 of them) were using the service.

But when we asked how many were now using the user-pays MetFlight service, we found that only 14.8% of the 472 question respondents were signed up. That’s about 70 pilots out of 472 checking the weather using MetFlight, before embarking on a flight. This is in line with anecdotal information that indicates MetFlight has little more than 400 paid subscriptions across the entire recreational GA population.

In simple terms:

♦ External funding was removed

♦ MetService decided to charge for MetFlight

♦ Users abandoned the MetFlight service in droves

Typical comment: It is wrong that GA pilots should have to pay for weather

Typical comment: It is wrong that GA pilots should have to pay for weather

Some of the non-subscribers said they now use a club subscription to access MetFlight. Others use Metvuw, or the US-based SkyVector website, which should give the CAA Director Graeme Harris and his Chief Met Officer Peter Lechner cause for grave concern.

A feature of some comments was that – because the user flew infrequently – the cost of MetFlight was far too high for their needs. It might cost “around 30c a day”, but for some that works out at $10 per forecast. One or two stated that they no longer flew in bad weather, and so had no need of any kind of forecast!

But the most frequent complaint was the old (and as-yet unresolved) chestnut: Why User Pays for aviators, when boaties and trampers get their weather forecasts free?

Conspiracy theorists may speculate that general aviators were just a captive bunch of guinea pigs used to test out the idea of charging boaties and trampers for weather forecasts, if the experiment worked.

It clearly has not.

So MetService, Maritime NZ and sleep-walking pollies will probably lay off seafarers and hikers (at least until the election is over) because two things are clear from this survey:

♦ If you charge for safety-related weather information, people may try to save a little money and then might take potentially lethal risks

♦ The financial return to MetService does not justify the subscription policy

Typical comment: I borrow someone else's logon!

Typical comment: I borrow someone else’s logon!

So much for the discredited idea of charging low-level, recreational pilots for a weather forecast. As one of the respondents says so succinctly: Charging for this information has tempted some pilots to operate without it, which is dangerous.

Airways “welcomed” our survey results, saying they appreciate feedback, “the good and the bad”. But despite our invitation, Airways did not offer any comment on more than 60 pages of survey comments, many of which show to all but the blind, dumb and deaf that subscriptions for weather forecasts do not work and the charging policy is counter-productive.

In a statement which flew directly in the face of the evidence put before it, MetService said:

MetService believes that recreational pilots take responsibility for their own safety very seriously, and understand the importance of weather information designed to their specialist requirements (as outlined in Civil Aviation regulations). We do not accept the inference that pilots would risk their safety just to avoid payment of a subscription costing as little as 30 cents a day.

MetService will continue to offer fit-for-purpose weather information that meets aviation regulations under the low-cost MetFlight GA subscription service. We encourage aviators to consider the various subscription options available, which have been designed to meet the needs of all GA pilots, whether flying regularly throughout the year, less frequently, or over short periods of time. This information is available on our website:

http://about.metservice.com/about-metservice/business-services/aviation/

This is empty PR-rhetoric, born of Einstein’s Definition of Insanity: Repeating the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

GAA asked MetService to confirm the number of current MetFlight subscriptions. On March 13, MetService stated that the number of subscribers was 429.

Graeme Harris says he shares our concerns

Graeme Harris says he shares our concerns

CAA Director Graeme Harris commented: “Many of the issues raised about the provision of meteorological information to recreational aviation are ones that the CAA has limited influence on so I will correspondingly make limited comment in that regard. I also understand that the parties directly involved are considering potential solutions so would not want to disturb that work. As you know, strictly speaking the CAA’s only involvement in the provision of meteorological information to domestic aviation is to ensure that any party that chooses to provide such information complies with the provisions of Civil Aviation Rule Part 174. From the broader safety promotion perspective, however, we have a very clear interest in ensuring that pilots do access and use appropriate meteorological information when flying. Thus, I’d certainly share the concern you have referred to about the possibility of pilots increasing safety risk by not meeting their responsibilities in this regard. As a matter of policy and practice, I will continue to promote the case for easy access to meteorological information for domestic aviation. I’d also prefer that the method of funding and/or its pricing did not constitute an unreasonable barrier to use.”

The pilot’s responsibility for ensuring safe flight, in respect to weather, does not include a requirement to access MetService forecasts or MetFlight in particular. The unreasonable barrier is the cost.

By…

♦ charging recreational aviators (but no other recreational interest group) without due regard to the consequences, and

♦ prohibiting the sharing of subscribed-for information – MetService terms, 5. Prohibited Use, clause 5.1: “The User must not resupply all or part of such information (whether for consideration or not) to any other person”

… MetService has breached the spirit and possibly the terms of CAA Rule Part 174, namely this clause:

174.9 Issue of certificate

An applicant is entitled to a meteorological service certificate if the Director is satisfied that

(3) the granting of the certificate is not contrary to the interests of aviation safety.

MetService’s terms would tend to suggest that those who are using the login/user name of an organisation in an unauthorised manner may be acting in contravention of the MetService Terms and Conditions. Our survey disclosed that just over 48% of respondents accessing MetFlight were using an organisational password/login.

And how could the cause of aviation safety be served if, on some lonely airfield and in questionable weather, a subscribing pilot obeyed the MetService terms and refused to share his or her MetFlight forecast with a non-subscribing aviator? It’s a complete nonsense.

So how should MetFlight be funded?

Typical comment: Should be free, like marine and mountain forecasts

Typical comment: Should be free, like marine and mountain forecasts

A clear 46.2% majority rejects the idea of pay-per-user-per-forecast (with around 26% of others in favour and the rest undecided), most citing their belief that weather forecasts should be free of charge, and a few others worrying about the admin difficulties in charging per forecast.

Instead, a massive 84.40% chose joint funding by the CAA, Airways and the Ministry of Transport as an alternative source of funding.

One of the handy aspects of the weather forecast within IFIS was its close companion, the NOTAM.

Typical comment: This would be way too logical to ever happen

Typical comment: This would be way too logical to ever happen

The survey gives more than a hint that having this jointly important information on the same site was more than convenient, and another strong hint that – because the forecast is no longer there – the habit of checking the NOTAMs at the same time as the weather has also been degraded.

The Airways IFIS website works well (particularly since its face-lift) and has the ability to be a “one-stop shop” for GA pilots. Flight plans can be filed electronically, NOTAMs checked and we once had the ability – as happens in other developed countries – to get en-route, destination, and alternate airfield weathers along with SIGMETs.

Typical comment: Barking mad!

Typical comment: Barking mad!

(A small aggravation to infrequent users of the Airways IFIS website is that they may be required to submit a new user name and password when logging on. Airways has confirmed that the current policy it applies to inactive IFIS user names is to deregister any that have not been used for at least nine months. Initially, the inactivity time used was six months but this was increased several years ago, following user feedback. Airways has also confirmed that this period could be extended to 12 months if it was considered desirable.)

GAA supporters long for the good old days. Almost 92 percent of them said they want an IFIS website that provides weather and NOTAMs in plain language.

And while we are on the subject of plain language, those few who still read MetFlight forecasts are unimpressed by the CAA’s bowing down to obey the ICAO’s rules and making the SIGMETs’ arcane coding even less easy to interpret.

Typical comment: I didn't know there was a translator

Typical comment: I didn’t know there was a translator

When we asked if users considered the removal of geographical references in SIGMET reports was a retrograde step, 88.5% said it was. This places them alongside Canadian aviators, who appreciate the enlightened attitude that Transport Canada took in providing two choices of forecast: one for ICAO-interested international aircrew and the other for Canadian GA operators like us.

Only 13 people out of 468 thought it was a good thing. This places them alongside the CAA’s Chief Met Officer Peter Lechner and the Manager of the Aeronautical Service Unit, Michael Haines, who clearly need all the support they can muster.

About 85 percent of respondents would like their weather forecasts (and their SIGMETs in particular) to be provided in plain language.

♦ Download your PDF copy of the full Met section results: Survey No 1 Part 1 Met

* Click on any graphic to enlarge it

♦ We will deal with the medical aspects in Part 2

♦ Sincere thanks to everyone who took part. Now you know the results, why not log in and leave a comment below?

The AIP: Free safety information, or just another money-maker?

Elsewhere, the EFB is ubiquitous. United Airlines aircrew at work with their iPads

Elsewhere, the EFB is ubiquitous. United Airlines aircrew at work with their iPads

EFBNZ was a priceless asset for the New Zealand general aviator. So priceless, in fact, that it was free. For those unfamiliar with EFBNZ, it was an app written by George Richards and gifted to us. It provided all the AIP on a mobile device, with easy updates – and it removed around a kilo of hard-to-handle, ring-bound paperwork from the W and B calculation.

But as in everything else, there are a few passages rectale in GA whose mission is to spoil it for the others. When George decided to offset his not inconsiderable costs by adding a few pop-up ads to EFBNZ, up rose the Richardheads to loudly complain.

These nitwits harmed all their flying comrades, because an exasperated George quite rightly offered everyone a digital two-fingered salute – and withdrew his app.

For those who had kept EFBNZ on their devices, all was not yet lost. They could still update their digital AIP.

EFBNZ - it provided an easy and free method of storing the AIP on a mobile device

EFBNZ – it provided an easy and free method of storing the AIP on a mobile device

Until, that is, somebody at the CAA decided to destroy EFBNZ and any kind of open-source software designed to automate AIP information downloads. The EFBNZ app drew its data from www.aip.net.nz, and part of the package included an automatic download of updates. Anyone familiar with the clunky AIP website knows that manual downloads from it are incredibly labour-intensive and the database was probably designed by a roomful of chimps with special needs, originally tasked with recreating Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Suddenly, EFBNZ became unusable.

But it gets worse.

Christoph Berthoud had written a macro called FetchAIP to automate AIP downloads. You could retrieve the entire AIP to your PC with only a few keystrokes, and port it over to a mobile device.

But in late 2013, Christoph discovered that his macro – just like EFBNZ – had crashed.

Why?

And then the CAA sabotaged it

And then the CAA sabotaged it

Someone at CAA, possibly working in collusion with Airways, had introduced an element to the AIP website that meant you had to read terms and conditions and manually click an “I agree” button. This is what had wrecked EFBNZ.

AIP information has always been freely available online to aviators, but it was now obvious that someone at Airways or CAA had spotted an opportunity to turn free information into a revenue generator.

When Christoph emailed Airways and explained that his macro breached no copyright law because it was only a “switch” that facilitated downloads and made no use of data, he had to send another two more emails just to get a response (which will not surprise veterans hardened in the dark arts of dealing with the CAA and Airways).

Trent Clarke, Manager Aeronautical Information Management at Airways, displayed a stunning ignorance of software and an equal level of arrogance when he told Christoph:

I have had discussions with our Legal advisors, and we cannot comment with regard to the lawfulness of your activity and suggest that you obtain legal advice in this regard.

You should also approach the CAA regarding the appropriateness of replacing the CAA conditions of use with your suggested “in-app” disclaimer/conditions of use.

Finally, there is the issue of liability. Many of those who get involved in data distribution believe that a disclaimer is sufficient to cover their exposure, but it often is not. Even with a prominent disclaimer, you should seek legal advice on your need for 3rd Party Public Liability insurance. It is common in NZ and Australia for those involved in disseminating aeronautical information to carry suitable insurance. CAA may ask this of you before they consider giving you the go ahead to access their site. In the absence of insurance, if your product was to fail or provide erroneous or out-of-date information, then the user would look beyond you to the CAA, and if your app had circumvented their conditions of use, it may be problematic.

In brief, we can provide access to source files for redistribution under a commercial agreement, but if you want to discuss a way to interface with the CAA site, then you will need to contact the CAA.

Christoph is an author of open-source software and he is therefore prohibited from making money from it. He is a volunteer, working for nothing, for the benefit of aviators.

When Trent advised Christoph that third party liability was recommended, he obviously hadn’t read the CAA’s terms and conditions of access to AIP, where the CAA (and by association, Airways) goes to great lengths to disclaim any responsibility or liability. We must also note that much of the content of AIP (and in particular, the airfield data) is supplied, and not written by either Airways or the CAA.

What the CAA and Airways have done, in destroying EFBNZ and disrupting the FetchAIP macro, goes against the ethics of aviation safety which the CAA constantly lectures us about. It is a clear case of an authority needlessly and recklessly obstructing access to information by users of free, open-source software, at the expense of safety, in order to promote a source of revenue by licensing commercial operators to sell an AIP package. This motive is evident in a letter from Trent Clarke to GAA:

We have received feedback consistent with yours that our customers want to access AIP data using tablets (electronic means), and over the past couple of months we have been working hard to make this happen. To support this and enable the app market we have licensed data to four app providers, including three for AIP content (two of which have signalled they intend to go live in January).

A commercial developer is much more likely to build a product if the licensor can also be persuaded to make it as difficult as possible for anyone else to access the data.

I raised this issue with CAA Director Graeme Harris early in February:

GAA is now looking into Airways’ destruction of the ability to easily download AIP information to an EFB for general aviators. In this respect, I ask the Director: which of these pieces of information is more important?

– Notams

– the AIP

– Met information

I know you will correctly answer that they all have equal importance in safe operations.

I will then ask:

Why are Notams free, but MetFlight is not?

and

Why, when the AIP must be made freely available, has Airways introduced a barrier which destroys everyone’s ability to download current information to their androids or iPads?

The macros that Airways has rendered useless do not of themselves copy or use the information. They merely facilitate its downloading to a device. Airways is on shaky ground with the defence it has so far offered, and we will seek to prove that the introduction of the sign-in-and-acceptance-of-terms barrier endangers flight safety and is intended to increase revenue.

The easy and free accessibility to AIP information to be downloaded on general aviators’ devices should never be interfered with, or be subject to whatever Airways personnel deem to be desirable in the interests of third party liability insurers or its chosen professional suppliers of Apps. Airways has introduced a commercial element to the free access to information that is totally unacceptable. I hope that you will look into this without delay, have a word with whoever created this problem and require them to restore the status quo ante.

Mr Harris replied, indicating that he had not the faintest idea what I was talking about.

“It would help if you could let me know exactly what the problem is with respect to AIP access is and what Airways response was when you raised the problem with them.”

So I sent him chapter and verse of the email correspondence between Christoph and Airways, and my correspondence with Airways as well.

Printing the AIP and its updates is obsolete, costly, weighty, wasteful and unnecessary. Rather than seeking to exploit and commercialise this vital safety information, the CAA and Airways have a duty to encourage distribution via free software to any general aviator’s Electronic Flight Bag – or at least not impede it.

They need not worry overmuch about litigation, because as part of the sabotage operation, the CAA inserted the following caveats which every user must agree to:

CAA accepts no liability for any direct or indirect loss or damage of any kind arising from use of Material. The Material should not be regarded as legal advice. The CAA may change the content, format, structure or functionality of the Material on this site without notice. You must ensure that You are using current information, and must consult the latest NOTAM.

And…

This site may contain statements of persons other than the CAA. Unless otherwise stated, the CAA does not endorse the accuracy or reliability of any such material. Reliance upon any such material shall be at Your own risk.

And…

Where the limitations on liability as set out above do not apply or are unenforceable and to the extent permitted by law, the CAA shall have no liability for loss, damage or delay (including consequential, financial or economic loss, and claims for indemnity or contribution) suffered or incurred by You, whether such liability arises in contract or in tort or in any way howsoever, in respect of or arising out of or in any way connected with the provision of the Material

And…

Nothing in this clause shall be construed as any indication or acceptance by the CAA of any liability in any respect for any amount.

And…

In respect of any third party claim, action, demand or proceeding against the CAA, You agree to indemnify the CAA to the extent that such claim, action, demand or proceeding arises out of any wrongful act, neglect or default by You.

Commercial development of integrated solutions for aviators, replacing the rag-bag and disconnected information provided by Airways and the CAA, is to be encouraged. But not if it involves hindering easy and free access for those who do not need a sophisticated product, or for the authors of free, open-source solutions.

Footnote: Compare our money-grubbing CAA and Airways with how they do it in the United States. The US equivalent to our CAA Rules and AIP is available as one downloadable pdf file in E reader format for all platforms and devices for a paltry $11.95 US.

http://www.avweb.com/avwebBooks_farAIM2014.5?ET=avweb:e2737:452324a:&st=email&kw=newsletter-FARAIM2014-0.5-TextOnly

The CFZ network: How GA won, but the CAA denies us a safer place to fly until 2016

Tucked away on page 12 of the latest CAA Vector magazine is a small but significant article – the result of submissions to the Radio Frequency Consultation. It quietly announces the CAA’s “plan” for a national system of common frequencies.

A problem with flying is that...

A problem with flying is that…

This article shows, from its brevity and its position in the magazine, that either the CAA’s Vector editor has no news sense or that the CAA would prefer to camouflage the reality:

♦ That – for approaching two decades – the CAA has been in denial about a fundamental aspect of general aviation safety: The need to protect low-level aviators against the risk of not hearing each other because pilots are using different frequencies while flying in the same area.

♦ And how, by the application of a force of opinion – much of it from outside what the CAA currently recognises as officially received wisdom from the established aviation organisations – plus a hefty dose of common sense, we aviators dragged the Civil Aviation Authority to recognise what actually happens in real life, in the air.

♦ All of us know that the idiocy of a 119.1 general frequency has caused a number of needless incidents, injuries, accidents and deaths.

♦ We know that many of them could have been avoided if the CAA had possessed the wits to early recognise the risks inherent in 119.1 and fulfilled its duty of care by dealing with it.

We now know that the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority seems slightly inclined to make our skies safer in this respect…

♦ but only when it suits those who spend their working lives in, and derive their power from, CAA in Asteron House.

... the people who think they can avoid air accidents...

…the people on the ground who think they can avoid air accidents…

By the time the CAA introduces a network of Common Frequency Zones in November 2016, nearly two decades will have passed since the idea was first suggested by a former CAA director. This is almost the equivalent of one generation of aviators.

Bear in mind that what is stated in the Vector article is not a promise. It is just an unsubstantiated claim from unidentified and unaccountable people whose mindset was always fixed on opposing any idea offered by their customers and whose shamefully poor performance and sometimes disingenuous conduct is revealed again later in this article.

None of this can be denied by the CAA, which until late in 2013 doggedly pursued an alternative FISCOM solution suggested by Mike Haines, Manager Aeronautical Services. He was opposed by the vast majority of users and his peculiar notion could never have been provided by existing technology nor executed by Airways staff. We asked Airways about this when The Haines Solution was raised, and they could not explain how it could work – or who might pay for it.

...live in offices, cannot fly an aeroplane and shouldn't be put in charge of a pocket calculator

…live in offices, cannot fly an aeroplane and shouldn’t be put in charge of a pocket calculator

To illustrate the difficulty in achieving change within our CAA bureaucracy (particularly as this subject has such important air safety implications) it is worthwhile to look back at the timeline of Massey University School of Aviation’s involvement. Of particular interest is that in 1998, the CAA, under a different Director’s watch, prepared a discussion document suggesting a future development of a national CFZ network.

2010

♦ Following the establishment of the Taranaki CFZ in May, Massey tabled the idea of establishing CFZs nationwide. This was a well thought out proposal to create a series of CFZs throughout NZ to overcome the serious flight safety problem of having aircraft operating in close vicinity to each other, but listening on different radio frequencies.

♦ Emailed CAA in August to submit the idea.

♦ Received very positive feedback from CAA Aeronautical Services Officer and Manager Aeronautical Services. CAA supplied a discussion document it had created in December 1998 suggesting the future development of a national CFZ network.

♦ From August, began working with local users in the lower North Island to produce a CFZ network in the region.

♦ Concept was tabled at Palmerston North Airport User Group, Feilding Aerodrome User Group, where it was met with full support.

♦ Discussed with RNZAF, with full support.

♦ Discussed with Airways, which had no objections.

2011

♦ January: a formal request for establishment of CFZs with draft proposal was sent to the CAA.

♦ April (3 months later): received formal reply from CAA Field Safety Advisor (on behalf of Aeronautical Unit) indicating it had been “put on the backburner”.

♦ June: received formal reply from CAA Aeronautical Services Officer, saying the proposal had been put on hold indefinitely as it did not attract a high priority at the CAA.

♦ November: Safety Management System (SMS) was introduced at Massey. Through this system, the hazard and risk assessment of the lack of common frequencies and increased traffic flow in uncontrolled airspace was deemed to be unacceptable and the project was revived.

2012

♦ During March, a paper was completed by Massey outlining the case to establish a “National CFZ Network”.

♦ This document was presented to RAeS, with full support.

♦ Tabled at AIA Training Division, which agreed it was a good idea.

♦ Discussed amongst Air New Zealand Aviation Institute FTO Partners, with full support.

♦ Article published in the August edition of Pacific Wings.

♦ Presented at CAA Flight Examiner seminar in August, with 100% support from the group.

♦ Communicated to Len Wicks Regional Officer Air Traffic Management ICAO Thailand. He says: “Regional Office fully supports the concept”.

♦ RNZAC Flight Instructor Council supports a full review of the radio frequencies used around NZ and would like to be involved with any ongoing discussion on this matter.

♦ Early November: Meeting held at Massey with CAA to discuss CFZ proposal and the industry support gained.

CAA indicated it was in discussions with Airways around the use of FISCOM as an alternative means to meet the uncontrolled airspace radio issues.
Meeting outcome: A response will be given to Massey from CAA in 2 – 3 weeks with industry consultation expected before the end of the year, with a suggested implementation by March / April 2013.

♦ Late November: Massey checks with CAA on progress. CAA indicates the following timeframe:

Dec 2012, finalise Airways provision or a national flight information service and FISCOM coverage. Dec 2012 / Jan 2013, Discussion document issued to industry in regard to radio frequency, use of FISCOM and review of current common frequency zones. End Feb 2013, consultation complete. March 2013, Final decision made on radio frequency network. April 2013, Finalisation so any charting amendments can be made for Nov 2013.

♦ Mid December: Massey checks with CAA on progress.

CAA responds to say several meetings are under way with Airways and AOPA and things are coming together. Rather than rush it out before Christmas, they would rather address it early 2013. A revised timeframe should be given by the end of the week and a meeting with Massey in mid-January.

2013

♦ Late January: Massey checks with CAA on progress.

CAA responds to say higher priority work and one staff member resigning has resulted in a reprioritising of tasks. “You will see we ran an article on ‘the right frequency’ in the Jan/Feb CAA Vector”. CAA planning on having a document out for comment by end of February at the latest. Draft for Massey and AOPA by end of next week.

The proposal had obviously stalled and GAA assisted in pushing it to the forefront again, with the result that the CAA then produced its own proposal, involving an “upgraded or enhanced” FISCOM service.

Most of the major GA pilot organisations were proactive in promulgating the two proposals to their memberships and a number of individual submissions were also made. A survey of opinions that we carried out via email and website produced very definite preferences for Massey’s CFZ proposal.

Our GAA submission extended to about 20 pages. Included were some pertinent comments from the respondents to our survey, which gave a clear indication of the importance that pilots attached to the air safety implications arising from the present radio frequency confusion. In its report of submissions on the CAA website, the authority slyly stated that the GAA submission contained opinions that made its submission fall less than unanimous. That is because we accept all opinions and treat them impartially. The overwhelming majority of GAA contributors wanted a system of common frequency zones.

It is disappointing to now discover that the CAA, whilst at long last accepting the preference for CFZs, has said that “planning of the zones will be done in conjunction with the Airspace Review, currently under way”. Target date for implementation of the network of CFZs is not until November 2016.

You may well wonder what will happen if, during the next almost three years of delay imposed by the CAA, we have further airspace incidents due to having aircraft operating in close proximity on different frequencies. The CAA’s lethargy in addressing such a serious air safety issue over more than 15 years is unacceptable.

The performance of the CAA over the CFZ issue reveals a dereliction of duty for which Michael Haines and the Director Graeme Harris cannot escape responsibility. The Director, in particular, is answerable for the information that his staff fed to Massey during its campaign.

It is hard to understand why the CAA chooses to delay implementation of this plan, even on a region-by-region basis, rather than take the risk of twisting in the wind in the event of another easily avoidable disaster. There is no reason why a staged implementation of a national CFZ system cannot be carried out. This safety measure is not (and never was) related to an airspace review. The need for a CFZ network predates the airspace review by 16 years and lumping it to an airspace review is clearly designed to disguise the inexplicable prejudice of CAA personnel and their stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming opposition.

There is no reason why, the CAA having finally accepted the argument for a national CFZ network, we should wait for three years. This system can be implemented in stages with the most urgent areas being given priority.

Look at the CAA Mission Statement, which pledges “To manage safety and security risks in New Zealand civil aviation through the implementation of efficient oversight, regulatory, and promotional action” and you can only conclude that the CAA has dropped the ball on this issue and failed on all three counts.

O Canada! Where the skies are vast, the charges are fair and the Admin is sane…

How the Canadians view GA and what it can afford

How the Canadians view GA and what it can afford

Today, NAV CANADA – the Canadian equivalent of our Airways – published its 2013 Customer Guide to Charges, and GAA is quietly proud to be the first website in the world outside Canada to reveal some of the contents.

They will come as an unpleasant surprise to Kiwi general aviators, still hurting from Airways’ heavy increases earlier this year. We also hope that they will annoy those at Airways who were responsible for GA cost increases in our country. In the opinion of many, these people damaged general aviation in New Zealand and harmed our economy.

Canada appears to treat its general aviators with greater respect, particularly in the Wallet Department. This is not surprising, given that in North America, GA is recognised as an essential part of travel, communications and the prosperity of a nation – rather than a pastime enjoyed by the “privileged” affluent, to be screwed to death by myopic, ground-bound pen-pushers.

NAV CANADA operates under a very similar commercial philosophy to Airways in New Zealand. Like us, its services were once entirely State-controlled. It is now a non-share capital, private corporation. Its charging regime differs from the State-Owned-Enterprise Airways Corporation in a number of significant respects.

Here are a couple of extracts from the NAV CANADA Charging Principles:

♦ charges must not be structured in such a way that a user would be encouraged to engage in practices that diminish safety for the purpose of avoiding a charge

♦ charges in respect of recreational and private aircraft must not be unreasonable or undue

That sounds like an Airways or NZ CAA mission statement, but let’s take a look at how NAV CANADA differs from Airways and our CAA.

In New Zealand, low-level aviators must pay MetFlight more than $100 a year to access weather information that is vital to GA safety. It follows that some will choose to save money and thereby reduce the overall level of GA safety by not subscribing.

In Canada, there are no charges for aviation weather forecasts. They are covered in an annual fee paid per aircraft to NAV CANADA, which has an Aviation Weather Website, open to the general public to view without charge.

(On November 14, the Canadians began to provide free SIGMET information that meets ICAO requirements but also meets the needs of of local aviators. It is called parallel forecasts and their idea, which helps domestic aviators, was ignored by the four people who oversee NZ CAA meteorology policy. The result will be seen in your next SIGMET on Metflight.)

The NAV CANADA charge starts at C$68 (or NZ$78) a year for aircraft with a MTOW of 617kg and above.

Microlights are exempt, for reasons obvious to everyone except Airways in New Zealand and our CAA.

Remember, the annual fee is for what we in New Zealand understand as Airways services – with the exception of weather forecasts, which NAV CANADA includes as part of its package.

Now compare Canadian “Airways” annual fee for its services to light aircraft with the New Zealand CAA’s “participation fee” of more than NZ$100 which, according to the CAA website, offers you:

Safety investigation and analysis

Industry-wide accident and incident trends are developed. These trends steer the CAA’s safety initiatives.

Safety education and information

The safety and information publication, Vector, is provided free to aviation community participants, as are booklets, posters, safety videos, seminars and the CAA web site.
Four Aviation Safety Advisers provide face-to-face contact, advice and information.

Random surveillance and spot checks

This safety service is carried out as required.

Enforcement

Occasionally enforcement action is required to ensure safety compliance.

Other information and advice

The Annual Registration Fee and Participation Levy is charged in accordance with the schedule of the Civil Aviation (Safety) Levies Order 2012 and the Civil Aviation Charges Regulations (No 2) 1991 Amendment Regulations 2012.

Ignore the fact that it is not possible to develop a trend (it does that all by itself, quite naturally). That sentence was obviously written by a highly paid oxymoron at the CAA.

Do you get the feeling that you are compelled to pay CAA enforcers for checking you out, perhaps helping to finance them to prosecute you, maybe print a heap of “free” advisory bumpf that a self-respecting pilot already knows, plus a glossy calendar that few people receive? Do you wonder how the CAA can charge you $100 and then say, without blinking, that Vector is free?

Did you note the statement of the legal justification for its levy? In other jurisdictions, it has been realised that quoting legal justifications for such a so-called service does not improve public relationships, or help build trust with the customers. It merely delivers a “Don’t mess with us” warning and supports the impression that this organisation and its personnel serve no useful purposes other than their own.

But overlook all that CAA bullshit for a moment. In Canada, many light aviators are today paying their equivalent of Airways an annual fee of about 78 bucks for services they can see, use and value, while in New Zealand, the State-owned Airways works on the principle of charging for everything that moves within its sphere of control, right down to $1 for a microlight transiting controlled airspace under VFR.

The Canadians also understand the concept of Exemptions and they implement it with a high degree of common sense. This includes, but is not limited to, for example:

♦ gliders, ultralights and balloons (except in certain cases involving large airports)

♦ all aircraft weighing less than 617 kg (except in certain cases involving large airports)

♦ aircraft or flights dedicated to search and rescue operated under the direction of police or the Department of National Defence

♦ test flights performed exclusively for:

• testing aircraft following overhauls, modifications, repairs and inspections for which a certificate of compliance is to be given; or

• enabling aircraft to qualify for the issue or renewal of a certificate of airworthiness

Now, note the Canadian approach to training flights in controlled airspace and compare it to that of Airways:

“For a flight operation performed exclusively for the purpose of training or testing of a person or persons (e.g., flight crew) to obtain, upgrade or renew a licence, including pilot proficiency checks, a charge is applied only on the first departure at each airport involved in the flight operation. However, training flights that transit from a main airport to a smaller airport because training flights are not allowed at the main airport are exempt from the TSC (terminal service charge) at the main airport.”

Unlike their counterparts in New Zealand, the Canadians know that circuit training does not constitute an additional component of risk or cost to their controllers (and they, unlike Airways, have not yet detected any additional level of workload that should be charged for).

It’s obvious that in Canada, administrators encourage flight training – preferring to avoid hitting the trainers with costs that just harm their ability to do business. They know that flight training is part of every progressive airport’s activity, not something to be discouraged by charges that drive operators and students away.

Note also, the absence of a $1 fee for “transit” through controlled airspace. This imposition by Airways in New Zealand makes no sense unless you understand that Airways has created a precedent for even higher charges. (Remember the introduction of GST at 10% which then subsequently increased to 12.5% and again escalated to 15%?) No one in their right mind would impose a $1 charge for a single item to recover actual costs, because the administrative costs far outweigh the income.

Unless it is part of a longer and larger agenda.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of NAV CANADA’s approach to user charges (apart from a liberal use of common sense and fairness) is how it made such great efforts to explain to customers the whole thing in plain English (and, of course, French).