The start of 2023 was a difficult year to predict in terms of aviation activity, particularly where 2022 saw a big resurgence across the spectrum post the pandemic and coming to the end of this year we have seen subdued activity, which we see in the hours flown by aviators in the general aviation and recreational aviation environment. It does appear that the economy is affecting most in some way or another and businesses are taking strain country wide, with a falling exchange rate, not being helped with an unstable asymmetric world order either. Fuel prices have soared upwards as well as cost of components for our aircraft types.
We also see the effect of this in the number of International competitions that our teams take part in, where last year it was a bumper year, this year it for sure has been less.
We have seen the unfortunate Chapter 11 bankruptcy declaration of well-known Vans Aircraft - what happened to them is a similar situation that affected most of the supply chain in aviation - Increasing logistic costs, supplier costs, double digit inflation on the back of already sold and paid for products - whereby to recover from this there is just no option other than to increase prices significantly - aviation and other high tech products will take a long time to stabilise their cost base.
In another aspect, there is a big resurgence in airline activity and tourism worldwide, passenger numbers are getting back to 2019 levels and climbing, with demand for airliners and going with that flight crews increasing which will start to impact positively in 2024. This should kick start the whole of the aviation community again and here is wishing us all success throughout - to start achieving normality throughout our supply chains.
The Aero Club also held its annual awards ceremony, the 2nd since Covid, with many recipients being recognised for their achievements in their sport and activities over the last year. We have continued the theme of the awards being held here at Rand in an aviation setting and we thank Menno Parsons for the privilege to be amongst his aircraft that well represent our type of Aviation.
The highlights for sure was the PGS Trophy for manufacture or design in the South African Recreational Aviation which went to the PCAD 700 - an all composite turboprop designed and built by Abrie Muller & Pierre vd Walt which had its first engine run just prior the award ceremony, and also the Aero Club Lifetime Achievement Award which went to John Illsley who has since 1993 after establishing the Pretoria Boys High Aeronautical Society been instrumental in fostering youth in Aviation, many of whom have found their way into Aviation.
For this year the Aero Club has again been able to organise Airweek at Middleburg which has become a signature event for all our Recreational Aviation disciplines to get together and enjoy the camaraderie between us, we have also found a sweet spot in terms of event calendar timing being early March where weather is excellent for flying as well as camping. We still intend that Airweek becomes the established equivalent Oshkosh in SA, although on a smaller scale and we thank the Middleburg Club & Richard Lovett for hosting us and continuously improving the facilities to support this event, and we trust that we will see all of you there again in 2024.
We also featured very strongly at AERO this year held at Wonderboom, our third event, and this time had a large outside display area, where we had invited all our Sections to participate, where we had good attendance and engagement with aviation minded folk who got to know more about Recreational Aviation. We will participate again in 2024, where this event being GA focussed, allows much more interaction within a wide GA/RA scope.
We also continue to work closely with the CAA as the regulator on a number of topics, although negotiations remain tough, we navigate through the many conflicting requirements to achieve acceptable outcomes to preserve our freedom of flight. There is still much work to be done, as regulations and requirements keep evolving, international benchmarks being imposed by ICAO, FAA, EASA as additional bureaucratic red tape - that threaten to affect our industry and operational costs, that we need to work at to curtail.
There are at least some international progressive steps being taken, notably by the EAA working closely with the FAA known on project MOSIAC (Modernisation of Special Airworthiness Certification), with the intent to make grass roots aviation more accessible, with less stringent medicals, increase in weight limits on light sport aircraft and many other features. Although some years away, we trust that we can work with our regulator once international maturity is secured.
We have had at least had some successes this year in particular the issue of operation from small airfields / airstrips where regulatory change was being promulgated in Part 91, which after an exemption was put in place to allow a suitable solution, this was achieved in October by proposed updates in Part 139 that allows for outlandings.
Similarly, the CAA has been overhauling their Industry fee structures with an Activity Based Costing type of approach which is no more than basing charges to the industry on the work content of the processing that needs to be done. This has unfortunately had a wide impact with various industry facets, and difficult discussions on what constitutes a fair fee for work done. The Aero Club, through most of the work done by Walter Doubell and Louis Stanford since May of this year, has been able to secure reasonable fee increases in the RA domain, and in some cases on an annualised basis a reduction, by means of moving a number of fees to be bi-annual.
What is still clear is that we have a lot of work to do to somehow get our non-ICAO environment in terms of processes simplified within the CAA both in terms of the workflow that happens as well as turnaround times, to re-iterate again - to lessen the cost of entry level Aviation, and we trust we can work at this with the CAA with the objective to lessen the fees for work performed.
The Aero Club also continues to support our members with the on-line ATF renewal support initiative, which improves the quality of documentation supplied to the CAA which ultimately improves the turnaround times, and we have engaged with the CAA on the merits and robustness of the system as a mechanism to lessen the overall cost and time with the view of eventually achieving some level of autonomy in processing ATFs.
Our membership continues to show slight decline at around 2700 members, which surely indicates increasingly tough economic conditions, a turbulent regulatory environment and a few other challenges that we find ourselves in that plays a large part in lessening the recreational participation within the Sections. This continues to put significant pressure on the Aero Club budget, and although we have not had the services of a GM for a few years now, it has put pressure on the shared volunteering workload of the Exco and a few of our members. The Council had decided in early 2023 to in some way to bolster more formally our advocacy role in the form of appointing a Chief Advocacy Officer - which was concluded in December whereby Walter Doubell has been appointed as such.
Walter comes with a wealth of Recreational Aviation experience and will represent us well in the CAA's and other Regulatory Institution forums to protect our freedom of flight. At the same time the Admin function of the GM post has been delegated to Sandra Strydom, AeCSA's long-time administrator as the Chief of Staff. These changes will allow better the function of the Exco to be one of oversight and Governance.
Our membership renewal season for 2024 commenced on the 1st of December, we have applied a CPI related increase to the membership fee with a view to ensure affordability going forward and also to continue to bolster our legal fund for potential legal engagements that may be necessary. We have instituted a rolling membership system as from early 2023, so that a member's joining / renewal month becomes the membership anniversary - which will be applicable to some sections that are not tied to fixed term membership cycles.
One of the many benefits of being an Aero Club Member is the third party insurance scheme, as within context of a wide membership base, can enjoy significant discounted premiums especially in the category of aircraft below 600 kg from 25% to 75% depending on aircraft type (see the Aero Club website for details). Similarly, with NTCA aircraft above 600 kg and below 2700 kg, there is also an Aero Club beneficiation Third Party Liability Scheme. The premiums in terms of benefit as such far outweigh the membership fees in many cases. The Aero Club has also renewed its Airmeet Third Party Policy, which covers all the events that the Aero Club and its Sections hold throughout the year, which number close to 80 or so events.
The Aero Club is also the National Aero Club (NAC) representing sporting events for competitions held Internationally under the auspices of the FAI, as such is affiliated to SASCOC in governing the conferring of Protea Colours.
Our aim continues to focus to make aviation appealing to the recreational aviator and the youth, in order for them to share and progress in the wonderful passion of all types of aviation sport offered by the various sections of the Aero Club in South Africa, as such we are fortunate to have in our midst many professional and retired professional career and military aviators that continue to share their mentorship and guidance freely to anyone who is interested in aviation in South Africa. With this, let us all work together and support the structures that represent recreational aviation to make 2024 a success to achieve growth, as it will only be our coordinated collective efforts that will ensure the survival of our disciplines into the future. If you have any comments or contributions to make you are most welcome to contact us at the Aero Club.
Many thanks are extended to our Aero Club Exco and Council support during the year, given the volunteers we all are, and having to weather the economics of the past few years, will be looking forward to a better 2024. An early in the year Strategy Session will be planned again for 2024 to map out the future of our Recreational Aviation Community.
If you are not a member and wish to join the Aero Club and any of its sections, feel free to do so member-renewals-and-new-memberships
Our Centenary Yearbook is still available to purchase (see advert above from our webshop www.aeroclub.org.za/shop