The CAA is seriously ill – but how can we tell the relatives?

22 July 2019 / by the GAA team / GA in general, Governance, Opinion, Overview, Safety, Security

The world’s most enormous celebrity bum: An example of how the media gives a craving public what it wants – not what it needs

If only we could ask The Average Kiwi to briefly pause and imagine what life would be like if, quite suddenly, all forms of general aviation disappeared. Everything, that is, below commercial airlines.

If you could snap your fingers and make it happen, people on the street would realise what quietly and reliably had been going on all around them. Flying in New Zealand has been driven by private individuals, expanding and developing, day in and day out, for decades. It’s had a dramatic effect on all our lives (and New Zealand’s economy) and it’s nowhere near done yet.

They’d miss it terribly.  Life without GA would be nothing less than catastrophic.  In some cases, it makes the difference between life and death.

Examples:

  • Sorry, mate, we’re not fighting those fires. You’re on your own.
  • Too bad about that smash – looks as if you could die there before the ambulance gets to you by road.
  • I realise your paddocks are desperate for the super, but don’t bother calling.
  • Sorry, I know you really want to learn how to fly, but we don’t give lessons any more.
  • Please understand Sir John, you and President Obama will have to get to The Landing by road, with all due respect.
  • Skydiving? What century are you from?
  • You want a scenic flight? Here, watch this video instead.
  • Look, your boys would rather get to the Maui platforms by helicopter and avoid the rough seas, but we’ve just restocked our sickbags and you’ll be fine.

Obviously, there’s a bit of poetic licence being used here, but you get the message. Our GA framework is the backbone of New Zealand aviation. It is a vital part of the nation’s social and commercial fabric. It has been progressively refined, mostly by those at the coalface, since the very beginning. It has incalculable economic potential.

This country has an aviation legacy for all New Zealanders to be proud of – if they only understood how valuable it is. However, GA faces an uncertain future.

This is largely because of how its regulator performs. For decades, the CAA has been subject to user criticism, and has often been officially exposed as failing to do its job by auditors and accident investigators. In an internal “review” document recently leaked to Newshub, the CAA admits that it does not function properly.

A series of transport ministers – from the dreadful Gerry Brownlee, through the do-nothing Simon Bridges to the apparently clueless incumbent Phil Twyford – have maintained a consistent position: There is nothing wrong with the CAA. They have maintained this stance despite serious accidents or incidents involving problems known to the CAA including drug and alcohol abuse and operator shortcomings that were not dealt with. The public knew nothing about this until they saw the headlines generated by investigations into multi-fatality accidents. And they still know little about how rotten their aviation regulator might be.

Drones: Twyford said they are worth up to $7.9 billion to our economy, while providing absolutely no supporting evidence. So why not make that $8 billion? Given his Kiwibuild predictions, kindly subtract at least three noughts

We are also fed up with ground-based bureaucrats, politicians and opportunists’ attempts to disrupt our customary rights to airspace.

The so-called drone industry is a classic example. We’ve seen private business try to grab control of airspace in both islands. In the South, that was seen off by energetic community action – and the opponents were not restricted to fliers. The applicant has at last pulled out, ill-tempered and permanently. The region’s newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, deserves high praise for its accurate and constant coverage of this story. Outside Otago, on the other hand, the issue received virtually zero exposure.

In the North, around Hokianga, there is an unresolved controversy where a little-known operation that doesn’t seem to have an aerodrome – let alone a drone – wants to fence off public airspace, while promoting its control over that space to anyone on the planet to come and use it as a drone testing site. Of course, they won’t charge the users for flying in their airspace because that is unlawful. They could, on the other hand, invoice them for ground-based “services”. In the case of Hokianga, established operator Salt Air has had to figure out how it could work around an obscure, tinpot ‘company’ while attempting to continue helping local people.

Incredible Skies has now put its application on indefinite hold, and the CAA is happy to go along with that. Operators around Hokianga are not so content, because they face prolonged uncertainty.

If you are the regulator, it is also unwise to treat your GA community as mere customers to whom you pay lip service while charging them excessively – let alone discard their views and sometimes push them around. You should not waste public money on prosecutions that effectively alienate you from the client base (and in some cases look remarkably like persecution) and yet do nothing to enhance aviation safety. Especially when you have been officially exposed as having identified operator failures, done nothing about them, and been associated with fatal accidents as a result.

If only the New Zealand aviation community wasn’t so fragmented. All these rivets flying in less than a loose formation make it so much easier for the powers-that-be to get away with their awful shortcomings. Politicians and bureaucrats know that they’re dealing with disparate (and therefore disunited) groups. Divide and rule is easy.

Flight 901, Mt Erebus 1979: the scandalous failings of officialdom were exposed by the late Paul Holmes, of the rare and now endangered species of Kiwi investigative journalists. It took him decades to root out the truth

If only the New Zealand media wasn’t so fragmented and temporal. There are no national newspapers, with the great influence they would wield; instead a scattered and shrivelling press landscape that is myopically regional. And when it comes to broadcasting, general aviation is at a major disadvantage. Most GA issues are complicated, and they cannot be properly covered through soundbites or two-minute stories.

Add to that the fact that journalists (and pollies, for that matter) have a short attention span, chase the ephemeral and have a huge “too hard” box, and you begin to see what we’re up against.

Complex potential safety issues, for instance, get the hands-off from almost all reporters. But if there’s an accident, they’re all over it like a rash. Until tomorrow, of course, when it’s either reduced to fish and chip wrappers or has flitted from the minds of viewers and broadcasters, as they chase the next transient sensation. It is a fact that New Zealand does not have a cohesive or credible investigative media; it never did and probably never will. We are too small to afford it.

In New Zealand GA, there are journalists, lawyers, active or retired entrepreneurs, every kind of skilled worker and a host of aviation professionals. They know how valuable the sector is, and how undervalued  it seems to be.

They also understand that our regulator has been dysfunctional for many years. The noise level about this has been increasing lately, with established organisations calling for a public inquiry and reforms which the GAA network’s supporters suggested more than 18 months ago to the Minister of Transport, and which were rejected.

Folks, how can we draw and hold the public’s attention to this awful mess?

Suggestions, please, to admin [at] caa [dot] gen [dot] nz