Aviation authorities the world over have the responsibility of overseeing aviation safety and security as well as developing the aviation industries in their countries.
Aviation safety and the development of aviation are two things that are mostly at loggerheads with each other: a terrific safety record can be achieved by banning aviation outright, or simply effectively regulating it out of existence. On the other hand, little or no regulation or oversight will result in unfettered development and growth of ideas, technologies and procedures – but at greater risk of accidents as new concepts are implemented and tested.
International law mandates that the safety of paying passengers on commercial flights is paramount. Trying out even small new ideas and technologies which may place paying passengers at risk can result in disaster, as Boeing recently rediscovered with the tragic Indonesian and Ethiopian 737 Max accidents.
This makes non-commercial general aviation (GA) the incubator for most of the new ideas in aviation. Those same international laws and standards that force regulators to consider paying passengers to be the holiest of holies, do not apply the same standards to GA pilots and aircraft. Indeed, regulators are not at all required to provide a duty of care towards GA pilots, their non-paying passengers or aircraft. Regulators need only take steps to protect third parties: people on the ground and in other aircraft.
Nanny states like Australia do not see things that way. People must be protected against themselves and their own actions at all costs. But this is always at the price of innovation.
Sadly, our own Civil Aviation Authority has been confused about these concepts for more than a decade.
GENERAL AVIATION SECURITY?
An important aspect is that aviation security is largely irrelevant to GA. Aviation security deals primarily with that holy of holies, the paying passenger, who must at all times be protected against terrorist attacks, hijackings and other malicious interference with commercial flights. This kind of interference is unheard of in GA flights.
Nevertheless, many years ago, prior to the 2010 Soccer World Cup held in South Africa, and under the tenures of Civil Aviation Commissioners Trevor Abrahams and Colin Jordaan, there was a gross misunderstanding that aviation security was some form of national security which could be used to oppress those who fly privately. There were major efforts to have the police and CAA inspectors conduct warrantless searches of private aircraft and private properties which may have an airstrip.
The rationale was that these aircraft and properties were hotbeds of smuggling, terrorism and other nefarious activities. This culminated in Jordaan’s pious contentions that helicopters were being widely used to poach rhinos.
Despite frantic efforts and a great deal of cooperation from the GA community there have never been any instances of such criminal or hostile activities. However, there were many efforts by the SANDF and SAPS to create ‘roadblocks in the sky’ and to ransack private homes, businesses and aircraft in the name of national security. It did not occur to CAA that it had no business being crime-fighting super-heroes or defenders of our national integrity.
This culminated in a successful lawsuit brought against CAA and the Minister of Police shortly before the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Not only were draconian flight restrictions already in place, but we sat slack-jawed listening to SAAF generals telling us that if a student pilot were to take off and erroneously turn in the wrong direction, the Air Force would assume that this was a terrorist attack and immediately shoot down the hapless student.
For this reason, they contended, all flights including training flights would have to be grounded nationwide for the duration of the soccer matches. Fortunately this insanity was averted.
THOSE HATED PRIVATE AIRFIELDS
But the abuse of South African aviation law continued unabated and CAA attempted to achieve their political masters’ ends by trying to establish regulations forcing the licensing or ‘registration’ of any and all places where an aircraft may land or take off.
AOPA South Africa was deeply suspicious of these proposed regulations and resisted them at every turn. Our suspicions were vindicated when a GA airfield in the Gauteng area was proposed. This was to be a public-use airfield catering mostly for light aircraft and as such, AOPA agreed and supported that it should indeed be licensed. This was also the view resulting from considerable discussion by experts at the National Airspace Committee.
However, an application to licence the airfield was flatly refused by then Acting Director for Civil Aviation, Ms Poppy Khoza, on the basis that it was “unsafe”. A request for reasons elicited no cogent response, so her decision was reviewed and overturned by the Civil Aviation Appeals Committee. The CAAC patiently allowed Khoza plenty of time to make her safety case, but she was unable to come up with anything even vaguely relevant to her purported viewpoint.
This confirmed our suspicions: CAA had been mandated to force licensing and registration upon all smaller airfields – and then refuse to licence or “register” them. It became quite apparent that CAA’s actions once again had nothing to do with their safety and security mandate, but more to do with political paranoia and desire for control from higher up.
Bizarrely, CAA applied to the High Court much later for permission to pursue an appeal against the decision of the CAAC nearly two years after their judgement. AOPA appealed to its members and other interested parties to assist by contributing towards the legal costs of opposing this new move. The response was overwhelming.
After more years of wrangling and obfuscation by the CAA, the Court refused CAA’s application and awarded attorney and client costs against CAA on the basis that their application was frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of court. The taxation and recovery of those costs was again characterised by delay and obfuscation, but I’m pleased to advise that CAA paid up and as of this writing, their money is now safely in AOPA’s account.
Our treasurer is now working on returning those funds to contributors or, if they prefer, leaving those funds in our litigation account for continuing to protect GA from these ongoing vagaries.
CAA FIGHTS DIRTY
CAA seldom sees success in the courts. This was apparent in the shameful grounding of CemAir airline for nine months – even though the courts and CAAC again overturned Ms Khoza’s decisions. There are ongoing similar scandalous groundings related to SAA Technical, Comair and some state airlines.
Khoza and CAA also embarked on a campaign to try to denigrate AOPA South Africa and its directors some years ago. Her accusations are a witches’ brew of racism, dishonesty and immorality against our representatives for having had the temerity to criticize her and the CAA for their excesses and general incompetence.
She has put a lot of effort into coercing and intimidating a number of her colleagues and other non-CAA persons and entities into her campaign of disinformation and hate speech.
The time has now come for AOPA to rectify this.
RAASA AND NTCA
AOPA took a decision to remain silent to give CAA and the various “governing bodies” six months to properly manage the future of non type-certified aircraft, their owners and pilots since the dissolution of RAASA at the end of March 2019.
It seems at the time of this writing that the whole process is rudderless and in danger of crashing and burning. It is now time for AOPA to intervene to protect the owners and pilots of NTCA.