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.

RA-Aus ‘amnesty’

RAAus letterIt may seem at first that flying without a current RA-Aus membership or a current bi-annual flight review (BFR), or without the correct endorsements or in an unregistered aircraft, are not serious safety issues. However, research into accidents with RA-Aus registered aircraft has shown that non-compliance in one or more of these key areas is a significant causal factor in many serious and fatal accidents.

It is thought that fear of reprisal may be one factor in stopping lapsed RA-Aus pilots/members/aircraft owners from rejoining the organisation. To help overcome this, RA-Aus, supported by CASA and other aviation bodies, has agreed an ‘amnesty’ period for ‘non-compliant’ pilots/members/aircraft owners to rejoin RA-Aus without punitive action being taken. Part of this process will include completion of any missing compliance items like BFRs and aircraft registration.

The amnesty will run for a 3-month period, from 01 December 2015 to 29 February 2016. This is a one-off opportunity for anyone affected to get back onside and at the same improve not only their own safety but everyone else’s too.

You may not be personally affected but I really urge you to talk with anyone you feel who may be and ask them to re-join the organisation.

To help in this, here’s a link to a letter from RA-Aus which gives more information for lapsed members: Dear Lapsed Member Letter

And here is a link to the RA-Aus website member application page, which can be completed and submitted online: Membership Reactivation Application

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….

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.