User Pays and the Law of Diminishing Returns. The more we pay, the less we fly

06 October 2014 / by Steve Walker / Adventure, Consultation, Costs, Employment, Governance, Opinion, Safety, Security

I have never been a great fan of Government bureaucracy, especially when it is being funded by my hard-earned tax dollars. We all expect value for money and never complain when we see that the service received from government departments has improved, or that our taxation dollars are being well spent. But now I think our tolerance of the Government’s “user pays” ideology has reached its limits.

Our politicians are always searching for ways to get more money, yet demonstrate great skill in wasting it.

I’ve always wondered why no political party has changed the age-old process whereby government departments spend (and often waste) every allocated budget dollar before the end of a financial year, or suffer a lower budget the next year. Surely a system can be implemented where spending under budget and saving dollars can be rewarded, just like in the private sector?

These days, we pay taxes and then get charged every time we request or use a government department’s service, when years ago it was free and taxpayers received value for money.

As taxpayers, we own the State Owned Enterprises, even if the Act stipulates politicians as the “shareholders”. The SOE Airways Corporation increased its charges on practically everything in July last year, and especially the General Aviation flight training sector, under the pretext of increased workload and risk. These costs will continue rising over the next two years to unsupportable and clearly unjustified levels. So I am not a happy camper.

We all know the then Minister for State Owned Enterprises, Tony Ryall, instructed Airways in a letter in 2011 to “increase revenue”. Obligingly, our Airways bureaucrats scratched their heads and invented new charges – even though their workload was decreasing dramatically.

The General Aviation Advocacy Group and I warned that draconian cost increases would have a damaging effect on aviation in New Zealand, and they have. The number of PPL and RPL pilots obtaining their Class 1 and 2 medicals has reduced, indicating that many pilots are not renewing their licences and are either giving up flying or switching to microlight certificates and avoiding controlled airfields.

GA activity is going from bad...

GA activity is going from bad…

The CAA has published its Aviation Safety Summary 2013-2014 and once again our aviation figures follow the same trend as previous years at certificated airfields, in a downward spiral dive. Alongside is the graph published for the years 2008-2013.

... to worse

… to worse

The summary dated August 2014 published this next graph:

There were 8840 fewer take-offs and landings at certificated aerodromes – and this has been the trend for the last five years.

I once heard the expression that “CAA and Airways don’t like aeroplanes or pilots because they only mean work”.

So congratulations to bureaucrats in the cosy world of government aviation institutions. Your decisions have successfully reduced your workload, you have been building up your hierarchical structure and you have tightened the noose around the neck of the General Aviation community in New Zealand.

But most importantly, last year we said the effect of increasing charges for flight training, especially circuit practice, will inevitably have an effect on flight safety. We were right – and it has. The 2014 Aviation Safety Summary states “Overall accident numbers in the 2014 summer quarter have increased 38% in comparison to the 2013 summer quarter. The biggest increase is within the Private Operations – Sport group”.

We told you this would happen. Pilots will become less current, fly less often and practice fewer take-offs and landings in all conditions; they will be less inclined to keep their flying skills sharpened. Please remember all this, dear bureaucrats. We hope you sleep well, but never forget: we told you so.