I have had the most incredible two months, and as tempting as it is to use this space to tell you all about the wonders of flying in the USA, the thrill of landing at Oshkosh and the fabulousness of flying in an R44 through Sydney Harbour (thanks Neil Weste!) upon my return, I felt I needed to bring to your attention something a little less exciting: our industry’s apathy.
A year ago, when I became editor of Australian Pilot and implemented an ‘anti-whingeing’ policy in this magazine. I vowed I would not carp on about restrictive regulations, the red plastic ASIC which we all loathe, or the frustratingly poor customer service that is indicative of so many flying schools. I promised I would be the go-to publication for positive stories, to promote progressive businesses and share the excitement of flying. And yet, after returning from the USA, I no longer felt like the Doris Day of Aviation.
After a month of American FBOs providing me with $10 per hour hire cars, aircraft hired for $103 per hour and airstrips every ten nautical miles in every direction, I could be forgiven for not being a Pollyanna pilot. After receiving over 25 emails detailing increases in landing fees, airport closures and wrestles with AvMed, I felt like hanging up the headset and applying for the green card lottery.
And then, something fabulous happened: I attended Ausfly. After four days with the nation’s most enthusiastic aviators, I realised all is not lost. Not at all. We might be smaller than the USA, we may well be over-regulated and we might just have a twentieth century attitude to flight training, but we are a nation of determined individuals who are prepared to continue to fly against some very tricky odds.
Among the fine aviators—and aviatrixes—of Ausfly, I met: a young couple with a flying school so progressive, the bulk of their students are under thirty; a remarkable young man who flew solo around the world despite a significant lack of sponsorship and no donor aircraft; an aircraft distributor who had taken a punt on a new aeroplane because they really, really believe it’s the best trainer on the market, and a man who sold his house to buy his dream machine. I chatted with scores of people who flew in every kind of aircraft, from every corner of the country, to be with like-minded people. I saw children staring open mouthed at the flying displays, and wallets opening at the speed of light to fly in a Pitts.
|photo by Phil Buckley|
At the Ausfly dinner, I listened with interest to SAAA President, Martin Ongley’s speech about the importance of joining organisations and supporting the industry, and I joined the crowd in a standing ovation for Ryan Campbell. I calculated the average age of my table’s diners to be around 50 (which is lower than the average pilot population—or maybe it was just the mood lighting!) and felt positive that Ausfly is succeeding in the very thing our industry needs—a good old dose of optimism.
|photo: Phil Buckley|
Everybody I spoke to agreed we have a long way to go, yet each had a personal story about flying and how it had enriched their life; journeys one could never have without having flown; marriage proposals in Tiger Moths and beautiful picnics at coastal airports. Tales of aircraft built, rivet by rivet, year by year, were shared among stories of lives saved by pilots, apps designed to make lives safer and friendships formed at aero club sausage sizzles.
|Photo: Phil Buckley|
We may not have courtesy cars at our airport, our CPL may still require the passing of seven exams and we might have to dangle an expensive piece of red plastic from our shirts for a long while yet, but while there is fuel in the bowser and gable markers on the runway, we will fly. And while I’m editor of this magazine, I will not whinge. Instead, I will take my lovely new Bose headset with me into the sky and visit the remarkable pilots who keep this industry the only one to which I am happy to belong.
|Photo: Phil Buckley|