Prognostications

Chris Martinus – President: Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association – South Africa

As the world trundles precipitously into 2024, fraught with wars and political and economic upheaval, it is a good time to reflect on past chaos and plot the course for general aviation in these seemingly apocalyptic times.

As I discussed last month, since 1944 aviation has been governed by international standards and principles that are supposed to be independent from political and other agendas.But inevitably those factors creep in – and they are seldom beneficial to the non-commercial private aviation community who fly recreationally or as an adjunct to their businesses and professions.

In countries other than South Africa, there has been little good news. In Europe and the UK, where general aviation is generally quite free and fair, the eye-wateringly high costs of private aviation coupled with intense regulatory regimes continues to shrink the opportunities of the private aviation sector to afford to fly, other than for the well-heeled and highly determined.

The USA is in somewhat better shape, with used aircraft prices having soared in recent years. However, that trend has come to an end as the US grapples with a softening economy and the effects of rampant political issues. A sad sign of the times is Van’s Aircraft, the world’s largest manufacturer of kit aircraft, having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It is widely hoped that Van’s will recover in the coming year.

There is little fanfare in other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South American countries where general aviation has traditionally been strong. For most other countries, well, let’s say things are quiet.

In South Africa, the decline continues apace. As canvassed in my previous articles, regulation and infighting continues to pick the bones of private aviators clean, in the mistaken belief that they provide a bottomless trove of money to prop up both the SACAA and several commercial aviation enterprises of dubious repute.

The litany of SACAA’s dithering and disaster is endless, from the shocking revelations emanating from the tragic accident of their own Cessna Citation and their unconscionable effort to cover up their own indiscretions, to their persistence in trying to restrict GA aircraft, take control of small airstrips for the purpose of collecting revenue from landowners, endless paperwork for which they expect payment for no purpose, the virtual collapse of air navigation services at larger airports, increasing tariffs and any other revenue they can somehow generate without actually providing useful services.

After more than 11 years at SACAA’s helm, Civil Aviation Director Poppy Khoza’s second term came to an end in December 2023, but she’s reportedly has had her contract renewed for another five years. Since her remuneration peaked at around R8.6 million in the years prior to Covid-19, she has sufficient motivation to hang in there for a while longer. However, considering her past performance, it appears likely that she will be presiding over an organisation that will stay focused on finding and killing ever more geese that may lay golden eggs to fund the bloated bureaucracy’s huge salary bills – while fighting rearguard actions against all the blunders and miscalculations that SACAA leaves in its wake.

Unfortunately for South African aviation, these blunders, cover-ups and general indiscretions do not go unnoticed by other nations. There are already rumblings at ICAO about SA’s privileged membership of the 32-nation ICAO Council and whether our track record warrants SA’s influence internationally. This, particularly in the light of the political considerations of the SA Government’s cozying up to international pariahs like Russia, Belarus and Middle Eastern states and organisations – all the while loudly – and falsely – screaming “neutrality”!

What is most disappointing is that the participants in general aviation in SA are very fractured at present. Confusion reigns supreme – and almost everyone has something to say about current issues, but they are mostly wrong. One particularly concerning issue was the response to SACAA’s plans to increase the aviation fuel levy over the next few years.

The DA Shadow Minister of Transport, Chris Hunsinger, galvanised the media into a frenzy that this would hurt the public by increasing already-expensive air tickets. However, this is quite incorrect. The Convention prohibits taxation of fuel, lubricants and parts on international flights.

In a vain attempt to gather a few pennies, the fuel levy exempts commercial passenger flights altogether. So, it has no effect on the consumer that Hunsinger so valiantly seeks to defend. On the other hand, the levy is extracted from fuel manufacturers, importers and wholesalers. This raises the question: how on earth are the fuel suppliers supposed to know in advance which litre of fuel is going to be propelling paying passengers and which litre is going to be used for private pilots frolicking on weekends – before the fuel is even delivered to the pumps?

SACAA’s levy, albeit small, clearly targets private aviators and flight training schools, but is so ludicrously unworkable as to be laughable.

Another issue that has caused an uproar is the ongoing AIC18.19 issue, the recommendation by engine manufacturers Lycoming and Continental that their engines be overhauled every 12 years, regardless of hours flown.

Many years ago our regulations made these manufacturers’ recommendations mandatory, thus threatening to immediately ground much of the general aviation fleet. AIC18.19 was hurriedly introduced to exempt everyone from this requirement while our regulations were reformulated and gave everyone an opportunity to comply, where necessary.

At the time, FAA and EASA regulations (which are referenced in both Lycoming and Continental’s Service Instructions) allowed for non-commercial operations to continue to utilise engines beyond 12 calendar years since overhaul and beyond TBO (hours beyond overhaul recommendations) on provisos that the engines are signed out by a maintenance engineer after having been inspected for oil leaks, cylinder borescoping, etc.

Our regulations were later updated in line with international practice, allowing private operators to continue running their engines “on condition” beyond 12 years and beyond TBO. Commercial, training and hire-and-fly operators would be required to comply with manufacturers’ recommendations. This is also in line with ICAO’s view that private operators largely carry the responsibility for their own safety and that of their passengers, but that commercial operations must be held to higher standards of safety.

When the AIC18.19 exemption was withdrawn in October, a few groups, notably the Commercial Aviation Association (CAASA) protested vigorously. In a press release CAASA’s Kevin Storie said, “What makes a SAFETY mockery [sic], one can fly their entire family and friends in the same aircraft if it is deemed not commercial based on the provisions currently in place.”

Well, yes. That’s the way it works all over the world. Private operators must keep in mind that they are themselves responsible for safety, while revenue-earners are subjected to more stringent standards.

Another group, the “Aviation Watch Action Committee” threatened SACAA with legal action if AIC18.19 is not re-instated.

The upshot was that SACAA extended the AIC for another six months, but also (and without proper industry consultation), ripped the relevant subsections out of CAR Part 43 and inserted them into the Technical Standards, omitting the provision of operating these engines on condition beyond TBO.

Due to this state of affairs, AOPA will need to put effort into beating the regulations back into some kind of sense.

While on this subject, AOPA South Africa is frequently asked by foreign pilots wishing to tour Southern Africa for recommendations for operators who can provide services and aircraft locally for their adventures. This is a great source of tourist revenue for the country and operators who provide training and aircraft, as well as regulatory compliance.

AOPA has been reluctant to recommend operators who merely lease in aircraft from private owners where maintenance may not comply with international standards and practices. For this reason, many local operators now operate aircraft that are registered with the FAA and maintained to their standards. It appears that the number of N-registered aircraft in SA is growing day by day.

My view is that it seems absurd that CAASA members appear to be commercially operating aircraft with run-out engines. If an aircraft that is being operated for reward has never seen an overhaul for over 12 years, perhaps that operator should not be in business. Regulations that are intended for private or experimental operations should simply never be applied to commercial operations – and that is why we have this mess.

It is doubtful that under Poppy Khoza’s extended regime much will improve during 2014.

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