Aero Club Membership
As at 2 July 2018, Aero Club has provisional figures of 2,931 individual paid up members. This figure excludes SAMAA who have over 3,200 members themselves. The rise of recreational drones will no doubt increase this.
Sadly, during the month we lost EAA and Aero Club member Rego Burger in a fatal aircraft crash. His enthusiasm for true experimental efforts will be missed, and our thoughts are with his loved ones.
There was also a bizarre incident in which an apparently un-airworthy Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat took off from the Natal Midlands in poor weather and was then flew well out to sea. Sadly the aircraft has yet been located, nor any wreckage thereof. The elderly pilot (who was not a current Aero Club member, was apparently neither current nor licensed) and the aircraft remain missing as at the time of writing, our prayers are with the family and friends during this time of anguish. An intentional act to disappear has not been ruled out.
BAFSA Balloon Championships - Skeerpoort (Magaliesburg Valley)
At Airweek 2018 I was afforded an incredible opportunity to have a short flight in a hot air balloon. I absolutely loved the experience and am keen to do it again. This is exactly what Airweek is about - sharing your aviation passion
, so a special thank you for this unexpected pleasure goes to Mr. Hanke Fourie.
As General Manager I am expected to attend, generally am invited to, and in my case I look forward to experiencing; the many aviation related functions, and one of these was the BAFSA AGM and opening of their week long Championships. The venue was Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safari Pavilion in Skeerpoort (There must be an interesting story behind the inclusion of the word "Original").
Compared to Aerobatics, this is the opposite, very gentile. It's the Champagne and Caviar sect of aviation. It is relaxed, incredibly pretty to watch, and the only thing that happens in a hurry is an accident. It is great pity that we do not have more private balloon pilots, but the acquisition and running costs of the equipment is not too dear; it is the necessity of having a launch crew, ground retrieval vehicle and team. The average glider which experiences an out-landing can be trailered by two persons, one of whom is normally the pilot and one other. A balloon seems to need a bit more.
Even the pilot briefing was unusual I that each competitor was issued with a bottle of champagne, intended as a gift to the farm owner on who's land the balloon was retrieved from. As I said, a gentleman's sport.
I encourage all those reading to try this at least once - tick it off your bucket list.
Sportsmanship and Volunteers
The extremely competitive nature of PTAR is hotly contested, and from time to time brings with it an in-built conflict between the race director and ninety-nine of the hundred participants. Only one team goes home thinking that all was great - the winner. Just like a rugby match where 10,000 spectators tend to know better than the referee, this natural conflict has sadly grown from normal healthy debate to being counterproductive. The Aero Club was asked to intervene, and the newly elected SAPFA Chairman bore the brunt of many dissatisfied competitors.
A meeting was held with competitors who brought these genuine concerns to the table and during the debate offered constructive criticism and agreed to assist with implementing a solution. This is a welcome change, as many times these situations can get maligned when unresearched complaints from folk that that never avail themselves for committee selection, and with that never offer a practical solution. I am reminded of US President's John F Kennedy's words: "There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favour, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility"
As the Aero Club we never support any suppression of genuine grievances, and in this instance there were many, and I am most glad SAPFA have listened and will be seeking a resolution that can best be implemented Sorting the genuine grievances from just plain un-sportsmanlike or un-gentlemanly behaviour can be challenging, but it can be done.
Our South African aviation world is frightfully small, and the pool of expertise we can draw on for any aspect is getting smaller. When we have committees made up of volunteers we often forget that they actually do have our best interests at heart and are doing the best they can for us. Being grateful for their efforts is easily forgotten when it is perceived that they have aggrieved you. This does not mean we cannot make suggestions for improvements, but before throwing rocks, place yourself in their shoes.
Aero Club and all its sections rely heavily on volunteers, without which it would collapse. None of whom are perfect. And every single one of them would rather be doing something else - like flying rather than administration or settling squabbles.
It's too easy to moan - rather get involved in a workable solution.
SACAA Aircrew Licencing Turn-Around Times
When service levels changed for the worse our immediate reaction was to accuse the SACAA of gross inefficiency. Some complainants were far less kind with their words. Aero Club went to investigate WHY the issuing of a pilot's licence now takes 5 working days when it seldom ever took more than 5 hours.
South African aircrew licences are issued in terms of ICAO Annex 1, which means they are accepted anywhere in the world. This does not mean much for the average pilot, but it is everything if you fly across borders or want to validate your daughter's very expensive ALTP in another country.
Previously SACAA used an in-house computer system, but as the complexity of regulations grew (including those from ICAO) the system no longer was efficient. In moving the legacy data to the new system, a sample assurance could not be done, due to the litigious society we live in, every single data item had to be independently verified.
Sadly, there are more instances of licence fraud than we would all like to believe, so every time a new application or renewal is vetted, it is now checked against a rigorous process designed to uncover these charlatans; who have no place in our world where minor incompetence kills people.
So they now check that the examining officer is actually licenced (including type ratings where applicable and medicals). Your ratings are carefully verified as well.
The counter staff I have met have been truly excellent in their service - polite, helpful and enthusiastic. But there is also only so much they can do, within their rules. A legal opinion established that they are not commissioners of oaths, and therefore they require certified copies of the relevant documentation. Painful for us, but it is no different to getting a motor vehicle licence.
Now before I get bombarded with examples of "how they got my licence wrong despite this" (and they did in my own personal instance), we are all human and often in the rush with new staff to please you - some errors have been made and corrected.
According to the SACAA, most of the problems encountered are due to the applicants themselves not abiding by the requirements:
∑ Logbook copies not certified
∑ Flight summaries not completed or are inaccurate
∑ Skills tests submitted late or are on old forms or incomplete
∑ Correction of errors on forms not countersigned
∑ Skill test dates and hours flown do not correspond with logbooks
∑ Testing officer is not rated or has a valid licence themselves
The licencing department operates on a first come first served basis, which can mean up to 200 others received by courier between you and the person behind you in the queue. They process around 300 licences per working day, and it must be error free, else they face the potential tragedy of allowing some Walter Mitty to kill your loved ones.
The above sounds a little unapologetic, and does not totally address the perceived inconvenience, but the turn-around time is still within the best of its worldwide counterparts. Put yourself in their shoes. If that still does not please you, this will - they are aiming at a fully automated renewal system with credit card licenses by 2019. So South Africa should easily become the best in the world shortly.
Safety First Aviator
The 2018 campaign kicked off with a grand opening event organised and hosted by the SACAA. You could be mistaken by the event invitation and the SACAA's own reporting in their annual report that it is entirely a SACAA initiative. The SACAA are only one of the many sponsors in an industry initiative that was the brainchild of an Aero Club member, and was brought to fruition by the Aero Club, and the aviation industry.
The opening event was well attended, but we still feel that we are preaching to the converted. It is the unconverted ones who think they do not need it, whom we need to reach most.
RAASA CEO Neil de Lange has long advocated that the recreational aviation industry institute some form of continuous professional development, and I fully agree. Currently we rely on the assessment of a pilot's demonstrated behaviour only during the renewal tests, which places the entire burden on the instructor. All commercial pilots, and ALTPs receive additional safety training via their companies, but little occurs outside of that. Those training for Comms are likely to get excellent presentations via their training organisation, and some flying clubs hold regular sessions. But for an average PPL there is nothing.
There is growing support for a points system that encourages pilots to attend safety seminars. Once you get a PPL or operate outside of a recognised safety management system, you never get the ongoing benefit of wisdom that can save you and your passengers. Aero Club is reluctant to support legislating such a move, but given the absence of a workable alternative, we are faced with an increasing inability to defend this.