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general aviation

Mar 10, 2016

Dick Smith says "get out of general aviation now"

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


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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12 thoughts on “Dick Smith says “get out of general aviation now”

  1. Dan Dair

    One would imagine that “the correct management of automation and computer flight systems”,
    is probably a valid business model for airlines to expect of their flight crew.

    In a purely numbers context, it is likely to produce the anticipated outcomes of low equipment failure rates coupled with successful management of system failures by the crew.
    Leading to a continued very high success-rate for successfully completed cycles & accident/incident avoidance.

    The question then becomes, without the necessary ‘seat-of-your-pants’ ‘feel’ for what the aircraft is doing, how many future pilots/’automation and computer flight systems managers’ will be able to recover from the unanticipated & unprecedented problems they might face, such as QF32 & JAL123 for example.?

    If the airlines ‘run-the-numbers’, will they decide that it’s cheaper to pay the law-suits than it is to fix the problem, as Ford USA decided with it’s 1970’s Pinto.?

    It would appear that we’re already well-along this pathway.?
    Incidents such as AF447 & AirAsia 8501 seem to be examples of the inability of pilots to actually fly their aircraft when the automation lets them down.?

    Perhaps this is a valid direction for commercial aviation to be heading.?
    In the real world, hull-losses will always occur.
    Will the change from piloting skills to ‘automation and computer flight systems managers’ positively or negatively affect the overall number of incidents & deaths.?

    I know I’d much rather be on a flight with a good pilot than a good systems manager in charge when things went wrong.
    The thing is, as a passenger, how many times would know or even suspect that your PIC has really ‘earned their corn’ that day.?
    As with so many professions, when you do a really good job, no-one notices,
    when you b@11s-up, everyone notices.!!!

  2. Norman Hanscombe

    If nothing else Dick Smith has shown agility in getting out of a business in a manner which helps fund his exotic but wasteful life style.

  3. comet

    As the industry lowers standards, the worse pilots we get.

    But as pilots become less skilled, and a greater proportion of accidents are attributed to them, the MBA managers will use it as an excuse to bring forward the introduction of the pilotless plane.

  4. Sam Jackson

    The point many seem to be missing is that an industry, any industry needs to vibrant and healthy if it is to contribute to the nations wealth and well being. To attract investment and provide employment there needs to be plans based on future prospects and present value. The future of the GA industry is threatened by red tape, an unbelievable amount of rules and regulations which do little apart from allocate blame, abrogate responsibility and impose huge operating impost. These regulations do little to improve ‘safety’ in any practical or measurable sense. The CASA has been, for 30 years, rewriting and amending the rule set. Apart from a cost to nation of approximately AUD$300, 000,000 nothing has changed and the rules are still both a legal and operational nightmare; with even the latest versions needing ‘exemption’ and band aid measures to prevent some of the more ludicrous bring flight operations to a standstill. This treatment simply adds to public bill.

    This is not about GA, it’s about an industry, any industry being ground into the dirt, rather than producing benefit; all at public expense, fully supported by successive government, who are afraid to ‘get involved’. Land rights for gay whales gets more support from politicians than the once thriving industry referred to as GA.

  5. Dan Dair

    If there’s one thing which I think most here will agree on, as well as probably the wider public too,
    it’s a definite refusal of pilotless airliners.

    In times of trouble, I want my pilot/s to be in as much peril as I am.!!
    As with QF32, but most especially JAL123, the flight crew are every bit as interested in saving there own skins as they are in saving mine. This can drive them on to achieve incredible things.
    Quotation from Wikipedia JAL123 page;
    “Subsequent simulator re-enactments with the mechanical failures suffered by the crashed plane failed to produce a better solution, or outcome.
    None of the four flight crews in the simulations kept the plane aloft for as long as the 32 minutes achieved by the actual crew”

    If the pilot is sat safely in an office/warehouse somewhere on the ground, their ar5e is not in the pilots seat on the plane.
    They can’t ‘feel’ what the aircraft is actually doing underneath & around them.

    Perhaps they’ll be a little calmer & more methodical,
    but equally,
    perhaps they’ll regard it as a flight-sim ‘GAME OVER’ result rather than having to concern themselves with other peoples lives, possibly thousands of kilometers away.?

  6. PAIN_P2

    Sadly, with the exception of Sam, commentators are missing the point, maybe the following courtesy of AvWeb & Aunty Pru http://auntypru.com/forum/-2016-Election-GA-Policies-not-platitudes?pid=3782#pid3782 might help encapsulate the importance that other first world countries, like the US, places on the GA industry:

    “..The U.S Senate’s version of FAA reauthorization legislation, introduced this week, includes measures supported by general aviation such as medical reform and streamlining for aircraft certification. Spinning off air traffic control services from the FAA, however, is no longer part of the picture after the House shelved its version of the bill. U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced the bill (PDF) along with fellow committee leaders. The legislation, which would reauthorize the FAA until Sept. 30, 2017, will undergo discussion at a committee meeting on March 16. In the meantime, congressional leaders expect to pass interim legislation for the FAA as its current authorization expires this month. The legislation includes eliminating current third-class medical requirements for light aircraft, a top priority for GA advocates that had weathered congressional debate since it was originally proposed as part of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2. It also rolls in the FAA’s recently announced proposal to reform Part 23 certification rules and shorten the approval process for new aircraft.

    The reauthorization bill also seeks to have the FAA complete the finalization of rules to govern commercial operations of unmanned aircraft, which have been in the works since the agency’s original proposal came out in February 2015. It calls for working with industry and other agencies to hash out safety and accountability issues. NASA would be tapped for a research plan on traffic management, while industry stakeholders would work with the FAA on ways of identifying and classifying drones, along with aspects such as “the feasibility of the development and operation of a publicly searchable online database” of registered unmanned aircraft.

    Airspace modernization would undergo continued examination under the bill, which acknowledges industry concerns over the readiness of the ADS-B system and the task of equipping aircraft to comply with the FAA’s ADS-B Out mandate by Jan. 1, 2020. The FAA would have to provide regular updates to Congress on its readiness plan, justify its benefits to safety and efficiency, and update its contingency and security plans. The absence of a privatized ATC as well as user fees to fund such an entity makes the bill as it stands more likely to survive the committee process and make it to the Senate floor. “Many of the good things that appeared in the House version of FAA reauthorization legislation remain here, without the unacceptable language of ATC privatization,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO and chairman. AOPA President Mark Baker said the aeromedical changes and Part 23 rewrite will receive continued support. “We hope the Senate will move quickly to pass this legislation which could save general aviation pilots hundreds of millions of dollars, improve general aviation safety, and strengthen the GA industry.”..”

    Quoting, on the Dick Smith rant, Steve Hitchen from another Oz aviation publication – Australian Flying – that most on here have obviously never read:

    “..Dick Smith has taken the most extraordinary step of encouraging people to leave general aviation for the good of the industry. Confused? Let me explain: Dick believes that the current state of the industry is not recoverable and many operators and owners will end-up sinking a lot of money into general aviation for zero return. His contention is that the government won’t do anything about it until a crisis is reached, and therefore we should bring that crisis on in order to force the government to do something. Personally, I don’t agree with Dick. Although I can see what he’s getting at, I don’t trust the government to do anything even after a crisis occurs. Successive governments have shown complete apathy towards general aviation, and there’s nothing to give me confidence they would suddenly wake up and get enthusiastic no matter what happens. Many times in the past I have quoted legendary US flying instructor John King, and now seems an appropriate time for me to do it again. John stood on a stage in Melbourne years ago and told the audience “you can’t wait for the goverment to fix things … that’s not what governments do.” Can I also quote another Mr Smith? In the classic Frank Capra movie Mr Smith goes to Washington, Jeff Smith (Jimmy Stewart) says something like “lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” If, as Dick Smith says, general aviation is a lost cause, I believe that’s only more reason to keep fighting for it..”

    Maybe that helps explain, what it is that Ben is getting at??

  7. caf

    At least the airline with the dark grey livery will continue training flight crew with hand-flying skills for the foreseeable future.

  8. grob

    Sorry Ben I’m going to disagree with some points of your article.

    “”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.””

    I assuming you’re referring to an-initio cadets, selected and trained from airline pilots at the start.
    First off, this has been the primary way airline pilots were selected and trained for most of the history of global commercial aviation. So it isn’t just a sudden new phenomenon, it has been standard industry practice for decades overseen and mentored by the pilots and safety managers of these airlines themselves. For example Qantas has had a successful cadet program in various guises since the 60’s.
    “Couldn’t actually fly a single engine Cessna 172”? All trainee pilots including ab initio cadets go through comprehensive training. And that includes solo hours, practice of emergency procedures, practice of takeoffs and landings in increasing complex aircraft and training in abnormal flight attitudes and recovery. Cadet pilots are monitored throught their training to ensure correct standards to the airlines satisfaction are being maintained, as opposed to traditional training which is entirely up to the user.
    “Never had to exercise judgement when challeneged with bad weather or mechanical failure”? Can you ensure all pilots with a GA background have had these experiences? Can you ensure all GA backgrounds pilots handled these experiences the right way? Tell me how many airliners land on short dirt strips again? If they do I am sure the airline’s training process will ensure these pilots are competent enough to land on these runways. And whether it be through their training experiences, or experiences in the industry as an airline FO under the mentorship of a more experienced Captain cadets will learn these experiences in an environment and using procedures more suited to their multi crew environment.

    “”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.””
    Currently arlines do provide training for automation failures, for failures of complex systems and manual recovery of upset flight attitudes throughout all phases of flight. This training has been increased within the last few years in response to those loss of control accidents you have mentioned.

    “”and the faith in becoming a pilot through theoretical studies and computer management skills may well be ahead of what is reasonable and prudent.””
    No current pilots are trained now solely in how to operate computers. Tell me how pilots from a cadet background are able to safely land a jetliner with a 30kt gusting crosswind in a turbulent atmosphere if they don’t have stick and rudder skills? You do realise most airlines in Australia (Qantas, QLink, Rex, Jetstar, Virgin, Sharp, Airnorth, Skippers, Cobham) have employed ab initio cadet pilots? These Captains and FO’s are flying our airliners in this nation today and for many years with an enviable safety record.
    As they have in many airlines around the world who have solely employed cadet pilots. Sure there are some airlines with deficiencies in training and safety. But you would probably find they would still have these deficiencies if they employed pilots from a GA background. You’ll also find pilots who have been exploited with regards to their employment terms and conditions, but this has happened to pilots from a GA background as well. And it’s a separate issue from their competence to fly.

    I believe the ATSB did a study (which was backed up by Rex in testimony to the Senate) that pilots from a cadet background are the equal in their skills and performance of their GA counterparts, and even begin to overtake them after a few years of airline flying. And by the fact that most airlines in Australia have use or are using cadet programs when recruiting is a testament to their success.

    I do agree it is a shame that general aviation in Australia is waning, and this needs to be fixed through less regulation, better promotion or lower costs. But our airlines will most certainly take their training and career development of pilots in house to ensure the high safety standards in this country are maintained.

  9. Ben Sandilands


    That comes up very lovely and reassuring. Until you pay attention to the forceful arguments from Boeing and Airbus in the last two years sounding their concerns about over reliance on automation. Or you visit the ATSB reports on instances where a Jetstar first officer under pressure couldn’t correctly set flap on the captain’s direction, and another incident where the workload of the captain was stressed by the lack of ability of the co-pilot to function.

    Your comments on cadet programs have nothing to do with this post, in that they don’t make our major airlines GA operators subject to the circumstances that are destroying GA.

    Let me channel what very concerned people in the major aircraft makers are saying. Automation is about enabling better control of a flight, not a set of cost cutting tools.

    They are trying to retain the real life experience merits of GA in an increasingly hostile environment.

  10. GeorgeD

    I’m with Grob. I would rather have more cadet pilots than GA pilots in commercial aircraft. It’s all about the quality of training and oversight and the subsequent lessons and habits learned, and these are variable in either context.

  11. comet

    Re “As the industry lowers standards, the worse pilots we get.”

    Today’s FlyDubai crash is of unknown cause, but it is probably shaping up to be another case of pilot error.

    While the pilots were attempting a go-around, the aircraft plummeted hard to the ground, as seen by the security video footage and the debris field.

    Some months ago, people commenting on this website said that Emirates Airlines is recruiting a lower grade of pilot. During this pilot shortage and airline expansion, it’s possible that its little brother airline FlyDubai is also hiring pilots of a lesser grade, though that is speculation on my part.

    Apart from this accident, it seems that incidents of pilots mishandling stall situations are becoming more common.

  12. Dan Dair

    Would that be anything to do with training on an ‘auto-throttle’ Airbus, but then actually flying a Boeing for a living,
    or is that far, far too simplistic a speculation.?


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