Dick Smith flying his Longranger over the east coast of Tasmania
Dick Smith flying his Longranger over the east coast of Tasmania

It’s a fair bet that almost no-one who flies on scheduled airlines in this country knows what ‘general aviation’ really is.

But it is the critical foundation (although one that is being weakened by technology) of the aviation food chain. A sick GA sector affects the ultimate health and skills base of piloting, training and maintenance.

Which is why a call by entrepreneur Dick Smith yesterday for those in private aviation to get out now before they lose their money is cause for some concerned discussions.

Mr Smith outlined his reasons in this post on Pprune, a discussion board that attracts some well known and respected voices in the airline and general aviation areas, as well as inevitably, a lot of trolls and f*ckwits.

GA isn’t an activity that speaks with one voice, and seldom says anything that can be readily understood by the political and media estates, which is bad news in a world where everyone tends to talk in dot points, slogans and assertions to fit into social media formats.

The basis for Mr Smith’s concerns, which have not gone unchallenged in the Pprune discussion, is unwise over regulation that is placing crippling financial burdens on general aviation.

What if anything should regular users of airlines be concerned about in this discussion? The answers may include technical skills retention in the national economy and aircraft piloting and maintenance standards.

Although it doesn’t appear at this stage to be part of the shouting that is going on over this topic on Pprune, the world’s airlines are increasingly run by management school disciples who really couldn’t care less if the first officer seat at the spear tip end of one of their 180 passenger jets is occupied by an enthusiastic young man or woman who couldn’t actually fly a small piston engined Cessna 172 and has never had to exercise judgment when challenged by weather or mechanical failure while using a short dirt airstrip.

The pressure in airlines is for legacy pilot skills to be considered less important than the correct management of automation and computer flight systems in scheduled operations, because ‘nothing’ ever goes wrong with them.

Once the GA stream of skilled pilots is throttled back to zero, the inconvenience of considerations about mature aged pilot skills, and the remaining regulatory emphasis on experience and training, will disappear.

General aviation in Australia is unfortunately often seen as an impediment to realising the real estate value of small airports close to major city airports and the faith in becoming a pilot through theoretical studies and computer management skills may well be ahead of what is reasonable and prudent.

Much hangs on the sort of debate Dick Smith is trying to bring on, even though it will escape close scrutiny over its pros and cons, in what now passes for general media.

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