Bi-Annual Flight Review (BFR)

AFRWell the time came again – all too soon – for my PPL medical and bi-annual flight reviews. I can’t believe it’s two years already since the last one… they tell me the speed of time passing is something to do with age, even though I don’t feel a day over 40!

First, the medical. At my age, I have to do a PPL medical every 2 years. My previous doctor, who did about 3 or 4 medicals for me over the years, has decided the demands of CASA are too great and so I had to find a new ‘DAME‘ (designated aviation medical examiner) to go to. Although I left 2-3 weeks before my old medical expired, it was still a bit of a push to get an appointment before the expiry. LESSON 1: leave plenty of time to book your medical!

On the due day, I arrived at 08:30 in the freezing cold and pouring rain of a typical Melbourne winter morning – note: the sun was shining by midday and the temperature was up by about 10 degrees.  I did all the usual tests – eyes/eyesight, ears/earsight (or should that be ‘hearing’?), reflexes, colour vision, peripheral vision, height, weight, blood pressure, and more. In preparation, you now have to fill in an online medical questionnaire on the CASA website and the doctor checks this all through with you. Interestingly, I didn’t have to undergo the dreaded ‘rubber gloved finger’ test this time. I understand that this check is not as reliable as once it was believed to be.

Everything was completed OK and then the doctor told me I had to get an ECG done, as I hadn’t had one in a while. Conveniently, there was a cardiology place almost next door. Indeed I haven’t had an ECG since I can remember and it’s amazing how much the process has changed over the years. The cardiologist wires you up and switches on the machine, which then automatically goes through the individual traces and beams it all via the internet to the central cardiology analyst. It must all have been OK because the medical was issued.

Total cost for the medical: $110 plus $75 CASA processing fee – less than the $210 annual cost of renewing my RA-Aus membership. The ECG was bulk-billed. LESSON 2: the annualised cost renewing your PPL is less than half as much as the annual cost of belonging to RA-Aus.

Next my bi-annual flight review – which I have always called a BFR – but I’m told is officially now called an Aeroplane Flight Review or AFR. Here, at least, some sense has prevailed at CASA and RA-Aus because you can do your AFR in a general aviation VH-registered aircraft and, as well as revalidating your PPL, the same flight also revalidates your RA-Aus Pilot Certificate. LESSON 3: make sure your instructor is both PPL and RA-Aus rated if you want to do just one AFR covering both categories. (If you don’t want to search the CASA website for information on AFRs – a should destroying process – click here for the relevant information; then click the link to download the ‘ratings’ pdf)

I was originally aiming to do my AFR in my A32 Vixxen demonstrator, but a few weeks ago, a flying school made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I was in the tandem-seat tail dragger Interstate Cadet.

I pre-flighted the aircraft and double-checked the weight and balance (the instructor sits in the back) to make sure we were well within limits. Typical of Tyabb, the wind that day was exactly 90 degrees across the main runway, so first test: which is the preferred runway direction in these circumstances? LESSON 4: check ERSA and/or the rule book for your airfield before your AFR.

We taxied out behind a couple of spam cans (sorry, Cessnas) and waited our turn at the holding point. After take-off (watch for that cross-wind!) we turned and climbed out towards French Island, a largish area of land in the middle of Westernport Bay, notorious for its own climate. But above a couple of thousand feet everything was smooth, so we did a few ever-increasingly steep turns and an engine-out forced landing (without actually touching down!). We then trundled over towards Port Phillip Bay – a bit bumpier here, even at almost 3,000 feet and then back towards the naval college at Cerberus. All the time, the instructor was asking me questions, sometimes about the aircraft, sometimes about its flying characteristics, sometimes about the controlled and restricted air space around the area, all gently checking my airmanship and knowledge. LESSON 5: relax, the instructor wants everything to be OK too!

Eventually after almost an hour, the command came to return to Tyabb. We could hear traffic on the radio, so joined down-wind, this time for runway 17. Because of the recent rain, the grass at Tyabb was unserviceable that day so we were landing on the bitumen – not my first choice in a tail dragger with a stiffish cross-wind breeze from the east, which makes for a nice little bit of turbulence as it comes over the hangars on that side of the airfield. Should I 3-point or wheel it on? Decisions decisions… With someone in the back seat, the Interstate likes to 3-point, so in spite of the cross-wind that’s what I opted for. In the event, the wind gods were with me and the landing was OK – not my best greaser but certainly quite acceptable. So we taxied in and shut down.

The AFR is really quite straightforward, particularly if you fly regularly as I do. I guess if you haven’t flown for a year, you’ll need to do a fair bit of swotting to make sure you have the answers and a few circuits to re-awaken your flying skills before the AFR!  There’s no pass or fail with an AFR – just useful reminders, even lessons, to keep you flying safe. Thanks to Nick Caudwell at Peninsula Aero Club for his advice and signing my logbook! Thoroughly recommended – 5 stars.

LSA – register CASA or RA-Aus?

GA or RA-Aus 01 GA or RA-Aus 02One of the commonest questions I’m asked by new Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) buyers is: “Should I register the aircraft general aviation VH- with CASA or recreational with Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus)?”. This question is, if anything, being asked even more frequently now CASA is offering the Recreational Pilot’s Licence (RPL), which allows RA-Aus Pilot Certificate owners to gain a license upgrade allowing them to fly certain larger VH- registered aircraft, even into certain categories of controlled airspace.

The answer(s) are not simple and depend on many variables – but get one thing straight up front: overall costs, based on a 3-year ownership of a new LSA, are pretty much the same whichever route you choose. Yes, you need a licensed engineer to sign your maintenance release on a VH- registered aircraft, and a CASA medical every so often, but these costs are completely offset by the annual aircraft re-registration and Pilot Certificate renewal charges made by RA-Aus.

“Ah yes”, I hear you muttering, “but under RA-Aus I can do all my own maintenance. Under CASA you have to pay an engineer.”

Putting aside the arguments for and against actually doing your own maintenance, CASA/VH- aircraft pilots can in fact carry out a lot of basic maintenance on their aircraft under something called ‘Schedule 8‘. For those of you unfamiliar with CAAP 42ZC-1 of CAR 1988 regulations, a summary follows.

But before you take maintenance matters into your own hands, read the relevant sections of CAR 1988 thoroughly to make sure (a) your aircraft is included in the definitions and (b) you are actually capable of doing the work. When it comes to aircraft maintenance – competency is king, whether you’re GA or RA-Aus.

Under Schedule 8, the main maintenance activities a pilot can carry out are:
– changing the engine oil and filter
– changing the air filter
– changing, replacing and/or gapping the spark plugs
– replacing the aircraft battery(s)
– topping up the hydraulic brake fluid
– changing and repairing the tyres & tubes, providing this does not require jacking the aircraft completely off the ground
– changing or replacing the seats, provided no disassembly of primary airframe parts or controls is required
– replacing seat belts/harnesses
– with some conditions, removing and replacing a door (eg for photo sessions)
– removing and replacing non-structural inspection plates and covers
– repairing/replacing safety-wire or pins, so long as they are not on primary controls
– even installing & removing a glider tow hook!

There are other activities which are also permitted. However, the main no-no is that the pilot cannot disconnect or reconnect any parts of the primary controls of the aircraft – although they can carry out the so-called ‘dual inspection’ of the controls after maintenance by a qualified engineer.

In short, a GA PPL can do most of the day-to-day maintenance on their aircraft, the same as an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate holder. If there is more extensive work to be done – eg repairs after an accident, or diagnosing and fixing an engine problem, personally I’d rather hand that over to someone who is properly qualified – be it GA or RA-Aus!

So, if not for cost or maintenance reasons, what other arguments are there for and against GA/RA-Aus? Sorry, but here I have to answer a question with a question, but it’s an important one: ‘What sort of flying do you really want to be doing?’

1. If you want/need to fly regularly into controlled airspace, at the present time you have no choice – it has to be a PPL/RPL license in a VH-registered aircraft. The same if you want to fly at night, which is currently not allowed under RA-Aus regulations. But there’s one small wrinkle – if you have both a current PPL/RPL and RA-Aus Pilot Certificate, you can fly an RA-Aus registered aircraft into controlled airspace…but not at night.

2. If you already have either an RPL, PPL or higher, then I’d register VH- with CASA. That way you don’t have to do the mandatory 5-hour RA-Aus conversion, and you’ll already be familiar with CASA rules & regs.

3. If you have an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate or no license at all, I‘d register the aircraft with RA-Aus because (a) you already know the rules and regs under RA-Aus and/or (b) the flight training is shorter (read: ‘less expensive’) than PPL training. You can always upgrade to an RPL or PPL later if you want to fly a bigger aircraft or into controlled airspace, which are currently outside the limits of RA-Aus.

4. If you have both an RPL/PPL or higher and an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate, and you don’t need to fly into controlled airspace, it really doesn’t matter how you register your LSA. Either way it will cost much the same and you can do most of the maintenance yourself.

This is intended to be a general summary of the issues around GA versus RA-Aus registration. As with everything in life, there are nuances and circumstances which may sway your own decision one way or the other. But remember – you can always switch an LSA registration from GA to RA-Aus (and vice-versa) later if you want; but make sure you keep meticulous maintenance records in the aircraft log books, and that it will cost you for a new CofA when you change registers.

Sport Pilot Magazine reviews the A32

A32 Sport Pilot Review

A32 Sport Pilot Review

The September issue of Sport Pilot Magazine (the official publication of Recreational Aviation Australia) has a flight review of the new Aeroprakt A32 Vixxen. You can read the article by clicking the Sport Pilot link above and turning to page 30.

Written by Andrew Murray – an A22LS Foxbat owner – this is a candid, comparative and objective review of the A32 aircraft.

Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to write the article, which, I think you will agree, has a certain style about it which makes it an easy read.

PS – As you’ll read, the new A32 is not just a quick update of the A22LS Foxbat, it’s a whole new aircraft. As a result, the name ‘Vixxen’ is currently being used in Australia to differentiate the two aircraft.

Deadstick landing training in A22LS Foxbat

Alina deadstickA short and useful video from Peter Reed, CFI at SkyFlyte ULA in northern Tasmania. Student Alina Herrmann is seen handling the aircraft with the engine shut down, including stalling, turning round a point and an approach and dead stick landing.

At present, this kind of training is allowed to be conducted by a CFI in controlled conditions for the purpose of advanced emergency training as detailed in the RA-Australia Operations Manual.  (See RA-Aus Operations Manual, Section 3.02-2 paragraph 9) Do not try this without an appropriately qualified instructor on board!

However, in the not too distant future, RA-Australia will be withdrawing this aspect of training and intentional engine-out practice like this, even under the supervision of a CFI, will become illegal. Which seems really stupid to me and a backward step in safety improvement. Aircraft behave differently when the engine is actually stopped, as opposed to just throttled back, and practice/training with the engine off should be an essential part of the syllabus – after all, if/when the engine really stops, you’ll have enough to handle without learning how to fly a glider.

Ukraine deadstickFinally, during my visit to Ukraine last year, I was at the Aeroprakt airfield, where instruction is carried out for club members. Part of the training is dead stick landings and here is a rather low-quality photo of the last one of the day….

Aerolite 103 with 4-stroke engine

Aerolite 103

Aerolite 103 at Oshkosh 2014

Regular readers will know about my interest in cheap (or rather, ‘less expensive’ – nothing in aviation is cheap) single seat ultralight aircraft.

One of my favourites, the Aerolite 103 (Aerolite 120 in Europe) is now available with a 4-stroke Briggs & Stratton 22 hp engine. Although heavier and a bit less powerful than the 2-stroke alternatives, the B&S motor still gives the aircraft a climb rate around 600 fpm and a cruise speed in the same 60 mph range. And of course it does it more quietly, using less fuel and, dare I say it, more reliably.

These very light 1-seat ‘Part 103’ aircraft have been slow to catch on, even in the USA, where you can fly them legally without registration or even a pilot’s license. This, in spite of the low purchase and running costs and (optional) folding wing, which allows storage in a garage or in the corner of a hangar which can’t be used by conventional fixed-wing aircraft. However, Aerolite reports growing sales in USA – more than 40 in 2014 – and now there is a German type-certified version – the Aerolite 120 – it looks like sales are set to grow exponentially over the next few years.

Priced from under US$15,000 (factory built!) for a 2-stroke version and probably under US$16,000 for a 4-stroke version, the Aerolite represents a great starting point for impecunious aspiring young pilots.

Factory-built single seat aircraft which are accepted under FAA Part 103 still cannot be registered in Australia, you have to build from a kit to be legal. In spite of lobbying from several sources, CASA and RA-Aus have still not woken up to the potential of these low cost aircraft as entry points for the more expensive end of the market. I wonder when RA-Aus will stop moaning about declining membership numbers and do what they should be doing to open aviation at grass roots level and work with CASA to ‘de-regulate’ these single seat aircraft? USA has done it. UK has done it. The rest of Europe has, in its own way, done it. Australia is now well behind in this growing ultralight market – what a shame.

NATFLY Easter 2015 is no more

NATFLY headerIn case you hadn’t heard, Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus) has decided to postpone – to a yet undisclosed date and place – the 2015 Easter NATFLY event, which in recent years has taken place at Temora Airfield in New South Wales.

The October 2014 RA-Aus newsletter says: “The decision was made with a view to re-invigorating NATFLY to attract a wide and varied audience”. RA-Aus is expecting to make a further announcement in January 2015 and refer you to a link on their website for more information – but don’t bother, the link just takes you to the NATFLY 2014 site, with nothing about the RA-Aus decision to postpone/cancel next year’s event.

The announcement has been greeted with both joy and sadness in our home.

Joy because for the first time in over 20 years, we can enjoy the Easter holiday weekend like normal(?) people. Before coming to Australia 15 years ago (and attending every NATFLY since then) we used to take our hot-air balloon to a big Easter ballooning festival in southern England. Getting up at 4.00 in the morning for the dawn lift-off was not my forté but taking part in a mass departure of 50+ balloons did make up for the early start. But preparation, planning and attendance at these big events costs a lot of time and money. Because of job and other constraints, I was often separated from my partner at a holiday time when we would prefer to be together relaxing.

And sadness because I remember when NATFLY attracted 500 or more aircraft from every corner of Australia. I recall often meeting people who had flown to Narromine (the NATFLY location in those days) from Darwin, Perth, Cairns and all manner of other distant, and no doubt more exotic, locations. The club of which I was a member – the Gold Coast Sports Flying Club (GCSFC) based at Heck Field, just to the north of the Gold Coast, always flew several aircraft down – as many as eight, I recall one year. We didn’t necessarily fly together – some took close to six hours in the slower planes, and others maybe only four hours. But we all got together after arrival and walked round looking at all the planes and chatted to their happy owners.

But, alas, attendances at NATFLY (and for that matter Ausfly, a similar event) have decreased markedly in recent times.

Contrast this situation with ever increasing attendances at air shows & fly-ins overseas – Sun ‘n Fun (Florida, USA), EAA Airventure (Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA), The Flying Show (mainly British Microlight Aircraft Association, Shropshire, UK), the Light Aircraft Association Rally (various locations, UK), Blois Airshow (Blois, France) and last but not least, Aero-Expo (Friedrichshafen, Germany). Due to visitor and exhibitor demand, they have recently doubled the frequency of this last event to make it annual instead of bi-annual.

So, what’s happened to the joy of flying recreational and sport aircraft in Australia? Why don’t people attend NATFLY any more? (See my earlier post/report about the 2014 event). Have people fallen out of love with flying? Are the aeroplanes too expensive to buy or fly? What effect have all the shenanigans at RA-Aus had over the last few years? Is the heavy hand of CASA – rightly or wrongly – blamed for recent low turn-outs? Has Easter just become the wrong time to hold a fly-in event? Or is it something else?

We need to get our mojo back and start enjoying our national fly-in events again, whether RA-Aus, Ausfly or whatever!

PS – Here’s a date for your diary: the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport, south west of Melbourne, 24 February to 1 March 2015 inclusive. See you there!!??**

RA-Aus AGM – membership apathy reigns

Lots of empty chairs at the AGM

Lots of empty chairs at the AGM

On Saturday 18 October I flew over from Tyabb to Lethbridge for the Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus) Annual General Meeting (AGM). It was a great day for flying – high cloud filtering the warm sun and light northerly breezes. A perfect day for my first visit to an RA-Aus AGM.

However, out of a total membership said to be approaching 10,000 people, only around 50-55 attended and 15 of those were board and committee members and executive. That makes 35-40 ordinary members out of 10,000 willing to make the effort to go. Says a lot about something…

I know that AGMs in any sphere are not renowned for high attendance rates. However, RA-Aus does not have any electronic voting and proxy voting or live AGM web-casting, all of which would potentially reduce physical attendance.  So I was stunned by the tiny numbers. A mountain of pre-meeting burgers and bangers (‘snags’ to my Australian friends) went to waste. As did over 100 empty chairs in the meeting hangar.

I want to say right out that I make no direct criticism of the officials – elected and employed – who have clearly been putting a lot of work into turning round the disastrous mess left by previous RA-Aus administrations. Solving and resolving the problems of registrations and re-registrations, sorting out the technical issues and dealing with the mighty bureaucracy that is CASA isn’t an enviable task. Also, it cannot be easy to report mounting financial losses, particularly when CASA pays RA-Aus about $7 per member per year for the $170 per member per year value of RA-Aus services CASA receives in return.

I was also stunned by the interminable questions from the floor – mostly inaudible and not repeated by the recipient using the microphone – about rearranging the deck-chairs. The new CEO, Michael Linke, made two short presentations (he only joined in July) about what he saw as the recent achievements and what’s on the radar to deliver. He seems to have a good grip after only such a short tenure and he was at least trying to look forward. Jim Tatlock, the Treasurer, also deserves a mention for a commendably concise and clear presentation of the financials. Much of the red ink is down to investing in technology and other things which should have been done long ago. It always costs five times as much to catch up as it does to keep up.

But for the rest…too much concentration on the cost part of the equation as opposed to income generation. And nothing remotely inspiring to get your blood pumping about the future. Maybe that’s why attendance was so low – although Eugene Reid (a previous President of RA-Aus) said that it was about ‘average’ for these meetings.

No doubt there will be a full report of the meeting on the RA-Aus website in due course (please note: you’ll need to be a member of RA-Aus to access financial reports and other similar material). And lengthy analysis in the forum chatrooms by people who didn’t attend….

I’m not going to end on a negative note. A few people – at least the 15 board /committee members and employees at the meeting – have been willing to put up their hands and spend a lot of their time and energy working to get RA-Aus back into a state we can be proud of. The least we can do is show up and support them.

So why couldn’t you muster up the enthusiasm to attend the RA-Aus AGM?

PS – One small point: I am wondering why RA-Aus has not formed a trade forum for recreational aircraft manufacturers and importers? After all, we experience at first hand the questions & reactions of buyers, all of whom are potential and existing RA-Aus members.