Sunday, October 21, 2012

A very disappointing situation...

I have been thinking long and hard about this post.

I have held off making a post for quite some time, but no longer.

I am not usually one to get too worked up, but there is something happening that is really getting me annoyed!

Recently, the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] went through a funding review [CAA website: funding review], and, cutting a long story short, has decided to raise many/ most of the charges that are levied on industry.

What has really got a lot of pilots riled up though, is the imposition of a brand new fee for the issue of pilot medicals. This has nothing to do with the evaluation of an applicant for a medical certificate, but is simply, for the vast majority of pilots, an administration fee - that is a payment for the CAA to file the paperwork [and irrespective of whether a medical is granted].

OK, so that simplifies things somewhat, and there is no doubt that the CAA medical unit does more than just file medical reports, but when compared to other jurisdictions, you really begin to wonder what they do to justify such a large fee, or whether in fact they are just an inefficient monopoly supplier that has no incentive to improve its practices.

Anyway, this brand new fee will be [from 1 November 2012], NZD$313. This is a new fee and in addition to the charges by the medical examiner for the examination itself, which tend to start around the NZD$200 mark.

Compare this to Australia, which, according to the CASA website [CASA website: medical certification FAQS, accessed 21 Oct 2012] levies an AUD$75 fee for the same sort of services, or the FAA website [FAA website: pilot medical cert Q&A, also accessed 21 Oct 2012] which shows that there is no fee set by the FAA.

Now, nobody I know objects to paying for the medical itself. In fact, from my perspective, there is a definite personal benefit in getting the medical, and the costs are not too unreasonable. However, paying a large admin fee is another story...!

The particularly galling part of this is that the attitude of the CAA appears to be that a medical [and the associated administration that they claim to do] is purely a private benefit, and therefore should be fully funded by pilots [and incidentally, air traffic controllers].

To some this may seem reasonable on the surface, except that the benefits of robust medical certification [and some would argue whether or not we have this...] extend well beyond the pilot community!

Think about this for a moment: every time you fly on an airline, YOU receive the benefit of medical certification! Every time an aircraft flies over your town or city, you benefit from knowing that the pilot(s) are unlikely to die and crash into your house or workplace! Every time you take your friends or family for a flight, they benefit also. Economically, the country benefits greatly from a robust medical certification system, because crashes due to medical incapacitation, particularly in airliners, would have immediate and very serious consequences for the airlines, air transportation in general [if people don't trust the airlines, they don't fly...], and therefore for the country as a whole.

Nobody is arguing that pilots shouldn't pay their way, but imposing full "cost recovery" on pilot,s claiming they are the only ones to benefit, is somewhat disingenuous.

One consequence of this new fee will likely be a reduction in pilots [particularly private pilots] continuing to maintain their medicals, and it will likely dampen the inflow of pilots into the system in the future - why would you get into aviation when the costs are so high?

My belief is that there will also be a movement over the next 2-3 years into the less-regulated side of flying with sport aviation [microlights/ ultralights]. While this is fine in and of itself, the safety record and standards of some microlight operators is worse than for general aviation [GA] using certified aircraft, and so I imagine this "hidden" cost will begin to show itself in due course.

Unfortunately, this is just a continuation of what some people would consider to be a drop in the safety-first attitude from the CAA [the met info issue is another very clear example]. I'm struggling to find any concrete examples of how CAA have engaged positively with GA over the past year. It all seems to be about pushing costs [and risk] onto others, irrespective of the outcome for this nationally-critical sector of the economy.

There's a great poster that can be downloaded or ordered from CAA from their website [CAA website: posters]. Click on the one that says "Aviation Safety Needs You". It has a great by-line in it which says "Aviation Safety is Everyone's Responsibility". It seems unfortunate that this "everyone" is starting to exclude one of the key "partners" [I use the term "partners" loosely!] in aviation... the CAA.

Well, as I stated above, these are just my thoughts. If you see anything that is blatantly wrong, please let me know and if I agree with you, I'll change it.

You may agree with me, or disagree with me - I don't really mind which.  Feel free to drop me an email [contact details are on my website], or leave a comment to this post. If you're looking at this on FB and want to leave a comment... would you consider leaving it on this post, not on FB? That way we can all share in your wisdom. I do not tend to censor comments, unless they are off the topic, defamatory, or encourage stupid or illegal activity, so keep it on topic and clean and it'll stay up, even if I disagree!

This extends to the good people at the CAA [and many of them undoubtedly are good people doing a good job]. You're welcome to comment also.

Lastly, there's a very interesting FB group that relates to this. If you're interested, take a look:


Nicks BIGSKY Aviation said...

Hi Rodney.

Yes I agree it will destroy Grass roots GA aviation and most clubs are suffering from the costs of maintaining OLD GA aircraft (my last 100 and ARA for my Jodel was $5000 and I kept her in top condition)not sustainable for pleasure flying and the buggers failed to turn my ELT back on after checking it. People not wanting to fly these tired machines.

When I did my BFR (Controlled airfield) for my RPL the maitenance of the Aero Club aircraft Cessna 152 was pitiful. Pre flight I had to get a Screw driver to screw most of the Trim back into position when the B-Cat asked what I wanted it for I advised as above and that it was like this all the time as nobody else had done it. Some of the instruments were placarded off as not working and on it went. Even the B-Cat was a bit sad a young fella. He wanted me to do a short landing on RWY 23 and said stop before the intersection 800metres away.......Engine failure on take off we never left the ground as he pulled power and said we don't allow students to do the flying bit as they have broken to many nose legs. So the whole PPL thing is pretty sad.

I won't be renewing my RPL and will stick with Microlites from now on. They are newer faster better range come in far more flavours than GA are more comfortable fly better rated higher in G limits and technically quite advanced.

I know of one Basic machine a Zenair 701 which is Totally digital no steam gauges anywhere's

As to your comment about Microlites the ones I have been involved with everyone I have ever seen are kept in immaculate condition especially the Class two passenger carrying ones. They follow the same if not more rigouris maintence and permit to Fly assesments and unlike a LAME which does it on his own the Microlite Permit to fly and 25,50,75,100 checks are performed by 2 people.

Of course the other thing is they have to be maintained to a Higher standard as they do more flying than most GA aircraft. Average PPL annual flying is only 12 hours a year where as Microlites are 50 hours plus average. As we know most Microlites are represented by quite shofisticated machines and the days of the open cockpit types are pretty rare now.

The Bridge Pa club has put a Tecnam on line now and when they had the open day for it it was over subscribed 3 times. it flew over 8 hours that day. it is rarely outa the air now. Thats saying something.

Yes the medicals for Microlites is a tad easier but then how many vehicle medical mis adventures do you hear about.......

Well thats my ten cents worth. Be well fly lots.

Cheers Nick

Nicks BIGSKY Aviation said...

Yo Rodney

One thing that is quite amusing is that CAA has all the Contact details for all pilots in NZ.

Now why wasn't there a mail out by CAA advising of these changes (as most other Govt dept's do) yes there were only 12 submissions against the Changes as nobody knew about the changes being proposed. I don't remember seeing it mentioned at all in there in house Magazine. I first heard about it probably like most in Aviation news.

People don't have time to look into the CAA website every five minutes to check with what is going on .......OH and whilst we are at it why did Flying NZ not alert everyone to this situation.

The other thing thats gonna hurt is flying at Controlled Airfields will probably deminish and florish at uncontrolled ones due to costs.

Where is the fun when one has to think about the dollars rather than the flying. Trouble is today there are a lot of other things people can do to amuse themselves without all this Hassle and I dare say quite a few might.

Also once GA declines to a trickle they will come after Microliting so will have to be ready to attack any advances on that score. The service industry will try and do that as well as LAME's will have less work and so it goes on.

Cheers Nick

GlennAv8r said...

Hi Rodney, nice post and totally agree. I beleive two other contributers to this situation are firstly that the National Government will be putting pressure on the CAA to recoup costs as they are doing with all Government agencies. Of course through this Government action they are ripping the heart out of General Aviation in NZ, just as the Government has done with the Defence Force, the Police, our Teachers and so on. The other thing which has to play a part in their cost recovery efforts is the rental they must be paying in their brand new, prime waterfront property in central Wellington. During a recession which has provided plentiful vacant office space CAA make their move into their expensive glass tower, which we are now paying for. Glenn B.

Rodney said...

Thanks Glenn and Nick.

Anonymous said...

Funny how different areas prefer microlight vs GA(NZRT, NZTI are micro's, NZCH, NZTU, NZOU,NZBA, NZDN, NZQN, NZWF mostly GA and some a mixture like NZAS). My opinion is that you get what you pay for safety-wise, and it's different horses for different courses work-wise. Much is opinion in that battle, however there are facts to weigh up depending on your mission.
You would pay more for a club trip in a fleet of two seater tecnams/raans's than 172, 177, 182 or 180's. As for maintenance, you would only buy new with microlights because you never know how good the last owner/maintainer was.
Hence the medical fee is detrimental to safety because it will push more into microlights and my perception of "getting what you pay for safety-wise" will look more shakey.

CAA have done some good work earning pilot respect in recent years, it's coming undone very quickly.

Rodney said...

Hi - that's a really way of looking at it. Well said, especially the last comment.

I suspect that in the last 2 years or so, CAA [as an organisation, not necessarily all of their staff] has stopped seeing the same level of value in working WITH industry to improve safety [hence my original comment about the poster].



Anonymous said...

Yes, it's important to note that this was a high level decision. The field safety guys are still as helpful as ever as are the education unit. Unfortunately the whole lot are now tarred with the same brush.

Rodney said...

That may well be the case [and let's face it - who hasn't had an employer who has made decisions we disagree with from time to time?], however, when we have a natural monopoly [most regulators fit into the category for good reason] that starts charging exorbitant, mandatory fees, is it any wonder that people start looking at whether they are getting any value from the regulator?

It may well be time for a very detailed and transparent look at the services that CAA offer, and determine if they are all critical. It may well be that some are more important than others, and perhaps those less important services [or parts thereof] could be dropped.

I also had a thought this afternoon... if CAA is so adamant that cross-subsidies are bad, will they be charging $50 per participant for the AvKiwi seminars [which are aimed mainly at GA pilots]? I doubt it, because if they did, no one would turn up. I think AvKiwi are great. I learn a lot. However, if you're going to have a standard that says "no cross subsidies", then that needs to be dropped, because we are not paying for it DIRECTLY. Oh yeah, and don't tell me that are important for safety reasons - recent decisions suggest that CAA will risk a safety reduction to save a few dollars [Metflight being a great example].