Address to the General Aviation Summit

Good morning and welcome to magnificent Wagga Wagga, I hope you all get a chance during your stay here to see some of the great attractions of my home city.

As the Minister responsible for aviation—and someone who has lived and worked here in the Riverina all my life—I appreciate the valuable role aviation plays in serving regional Australia.

I recognise the many economic and community contributions the GA sector makes, from flying training, aerial spraying, mustering and surveying, through to the delivery of medical, rescue and emergency services.

Whilst I’ve been Minister for only a relatively short time, I am in no doubt about the passion in the GA industry, and whilst this summit will highlight some of the challenges you are facing, that passion can be used to help meet those challenges.

The aviation sector, including GA, will continue to transform as it has done over the past few decades.  As with any other industry, it must.

Once, Wagga’s own Don Kendell flew his small GA aircraft out of this town to Sydney and Melbourne, now we see REX’s SAAB340s and Qantas’ Dash 8s.

The exponential growth in the use of drones is also testimony to the transformation going on in aviation, we can only imagine how these amazing technologies will be used by our kids in the future.

This means though that all aviation sectors, including GA, will need to adapt and change with future economic and technological developments.

Not only should industry adapt but so too government and government agencies.

In this regard I am encouraged by the recent work being done by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

I know there are strong views on how CASA has performed over the years but there is good work being done right now under the leadership of CEO Shane Carmody.

Many initiatives over the past 12 months that have been supported by industry and that are benefitting GA include:

  • reforms in the aviation medicine system, which provide GA pilots with more options and simpler access to pilot medical certificates;
  • organisational changes, including a specific area dedicated to GA; and
  • better industry consultation with the establishment of an Aviation Safety Advisory Panel and Technical Working Groups.

As we announced last weekend, CASA has just introduced the new Basic Class 2 medical, which makes the process of getting a medical certificate much easier for many private pilots.

This change builds on aviation medical reforms made earlier this year, including making a Class 2 medical certificate available for pilots operating commercial non-passenger flights in smaller aircraft, and enabling Designated Aviation Medical Examiners to issue Class 2 medical certificates on the spot.

These measures streamline the processing of medical certificate applications; an issue I am aware that industry has consistently called for from CASA.

I am also aware there are calls for more, but CASA has not said they have finished. In fact, CASA are continuing to look to further reform as it reviews its medical processing system over the coming year.

We also announced on the weekend and I welcome news of CASA starting work with industry on the development of new general aviation maintenance regulations with the stated objective of minimising regulatory burden and reducing costs.

There will be a new set of maintenance regulations tailored specifically for general aviation, which will be based as far as possible on best practices in leading aviation nations, such as the United States.

CASA is also working on improvements to the regulations covering maintenance personnel licensing and aircraft design and manufacturing.

I am pleased that CASA will be drafting these new regulations with comprehensive guidance material in plain English to support them.

I am also very pleased that I can announce today that the issues surrounding indemnity insurance for our flight examiners has been resolved.

With effect from 1 September 2018, CASA indemnification will be provided to all Flight Examiner Rating holders and will continue for Approved Testing Officers. 

This announcement follows the completion of a policy review and public consultation by the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities earlier this year.

This approach will help retain experienced industry flight testing personnel working in regional areas, I know this has been an issue that industry have been keen to see a resolution and I am glad that today we can announce the good news.

As you all may be aware, CASA has committed to completing the aviation regulatory reform package over the next 12 months, a journey that I am sure industry is keen to see completed.

But, to do so CASA needs industry engagement and commitment in finalising future regulatory approaches working together through the CASA-industry Aviation Safety Advisory Panel and associated Technical Working Groups.

I am delighted to be informed that over 500 industry representatives have registered with CASA to participate and assist with the Technical Working Groups and over 80 industry members are already involved in the consideration of key regulatory reforms.

A key part of this consultation will be detailed consideration of the safety case and cost impacts of proposed reforms and the agreed objective of having less complex regulations.  

The impact of costs on the GA industry is a key theme of this summit.

I remain very much committed to the Government’s Statement of Expectations issued to the CASA Board in March last year by my colleague the Hon Darren Chester.

These require CASA, in its regulatory approach, to consider economic and cost impacts on individuals, businesses and the community, and to take a pragmatic and proportionate approach to regulation as it applies to different sectors.

These are not just words. The Statement of Expectations is a legislative instrument and I expect the Board of CASA to ensure its requirements are met.

The Board will be reporting quarterly to me on their performance against the Statement and their corporate plan.

I can also assure you that I will work in partnership with our aviation agencies and industry in tackling the challenges and opportunities for the GA sector, identified in the Government commissioned Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics—BITRE study released late last year.

These challenges are diverse.

They range from fuel and maintenance costs, airport leases and charges; the impact of some regulatory changes and delays in CASA reviews, to a lack of robust data on the GA sector.

The Study also showed that Australia is not alone in facing economic, demographic and regulatory factors affecting GA, with several major countries such as the UK, US and Canada also suffering declines in GA activity.

BITRE’s recent release of the 2016 GA Activity Survey has showed some encouraging signs in terms of increased flying activity in some parts of GA such as aerial work, flying training and aerial mustering.

But I acknowledge that there are still serious challenges facing GA.

Not long ago I enjoyed a very positive meeting with the industry-led GA Advisory Group, chaired by the CEO of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Martin Laverty. Martin presented me with the Group’s work plan for 2018-19.

The work plan takes into account the findings of the BITRE GA Study and lays out three key priorities the Group will be working on and providing the Government with advice on this year.

The first of these priorities—developing a broad, long term perspective for GA, will look at defining GA, its role, strategic and legislative framework and identify levers to better promote GA in Australia, will be progressed at the Group’s next meeting next month.

The Group’s work on the other two key priorities—examining how air safety regulation can support GA and maintaining and enhancing GA industry capability through workforce planning and access to airspace and infrastructure, will also provide valuable advice for Government and industry consideration.

The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, along with CASA will also work with the Group as they respond to these priorities.

The Group is a vital source of advice to these agencies as they undertake their policy and regulatory work.

For example, the Group has a range of representatives who are well placed to contribute to CASA’s future review of flight crew licensing and flight training regulations.

I know these regulations are the source of ongoing industry concerns and I welcome the opportunity for the Group to contribute with their broad experiences in the field and I encourage you, the GA industry, to also contribute.

To further support the Group’s GA experience, I have decided to invite Mr Marc de Stoop, recent President of AOPA Australia, to join the Group.

I am also aware that aviation training and the availability and retention of aviation professionals including pilots and aviation maintenance engineers is of key concern to the industry as a whole and GA. 

I believe there are great opportunities for the future expansion of training of Australian and overseas pilots in Australia.

An industry-led review of aviation skills and training has been conducted by Greg Russell, the Chair of the Australian Aviation Associations Forum, and will make recommendations for industry and Government consideration later this month.

I welcome the announcement by Qantas of the establishment of its own new pilot training academy next year and note the recent selection of nine regional locations, including Wagga Wagga, for further feasibility assessment by the airline, with a final decision expected in the September quarter this year.

Over the next two days. I am very aware that a major part of your discussions will be looking at potential amendments to the Civil Aviation Act 1988, CASA’s governing legislation. 

The Government welcomes any suggestions which would improve our aviation safety legislative and regulatory framework.

I also wish to acknowledge and welcome the attendance tomorrow at this summit of the Shadow Minister and former Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese.

I have had the opportunity to meet with the Shadow Minister and agreed that we are both committed to adopt a bipartisan approach to aviation safety.

Aviation safety is above politics.

We are both committed to aviation safety being the most important consideration in safety regulation and recognise that CASA must be allowed to perform its dedicated safety regulatory role.

The views of other key industry, Government and community stakeholders must also be considered.

This will also include CASA of course, who need to perform their safety regulatory function on behalf of government, the travelling public and the community.

I do recognise that issues of sustainability and promotion of aviation and its different sectors are matters of importance to consider in establishing and reviewing Government economic and industry policy settings impacting on the industry.

As a former small business owner, a Minister for Small Business and editor of a regional newspaper here in Wagga, I am very conscious of the challenges faced by small business in Australia and the need to remove unnecessary costs and regulatory burden.

I must also say, that’s why this Government has legislated small business tax relief, dropping the corporate rate from 30 cents to 25 cents in the dollar—and with large business to follow suit.

It’s why we’ve extended the $20,000 instant asset write-off, a highly popular action designed to boost cash flow and encourage business development and re-investment.

This Government is pro-business!

But specifically, the Government is working with you to deliver meaningful reforms for the benefit of general aviation while maintaining the high aviation safety standards demanded by all Australians.

I will continue to listen and carefully consider the issues raised by people in the general aviation sector, and the Government and portfolio aviation agencies will respond appropriately.

And here’s a chance now…I am keen to hear from you on the key issues you want tackled by Government and industry that relate to GA operations in Australia.

Finally, can I encourage you to focus on proposals that are likely to have a practical effect delivering tangible improvements to the challenges GA is facing.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you all today, I hope your summit is successful and that you enjoy the splendours of our beautiful city.

Thank you.