This past year the Aero Club has seen challenges on many fronts, taking a concerted effort by the Council to navigate through these at times, stormy clouds 2019 has been a year of reflection and consolidation and a springboard for our 2020 Centenary year, where we will be making concerted efforts to ensure Recreational Aviation is embraced by you, the Recreational Aviator and supported by the Regulator to uphold our charter of ensuring Freedom of Flight.
The announcement by the CAA of integrating the functions of RAASA into the CAA in 2018 came with some trepidation. The implementation date of the 1st of April 2019, where restructuring of the functions of the Rand Airport RAASA office was carried out into the main stream CAA management structure, although much of the personnel and activities remained in place at Rand Airport. Renewals of NPLs and ATFs could continue as normal, however the service turnaround times took a serious knock as the process of these renewals had to follow the CAA workflow procedures. Similarly, the ease of posting in documentation from far & wide and having documents reposted was also ceased and as such with the Aero Club next door, it was agreed that we would offer a documentation submittal and postal service, where so far since August around 100 members have taken up this support initiative. Although this may seem a regressive solution, in the background we are working with the CAA to improve their service delivery targets and challenging the turnaround times promulgated today for their various services, knowing that there are prevailing factors to be considered to be in compliance to ICAO requirements. Even though recreational aviation in the main is not an ICAO subject activity, there are plenty of overlaps that come into consideration. Our main objective remains keeping costs down, barriers of entry low as recreational aviation is the spawning grounds of aviation growth in SA. The details of the Aero Club Membership Support Initiative can be found on the website.
Two other subjects of engagement the Aero Club was held with the CAA over the last year which has been the AP Scheme under Part 66.4 and the review of the AROs under Part 149. The AP Scheme was essentially run from within the Aero Club with RAASA oversight, the administrative burden became prevalent over time and as such there were structural problems with Part 66.4 governing APs which led to a joint CAA and Industry review. This resulted in the formation of an AP Panel led by the CAA where a workshop was convened over a number of days to review the regulations and Terms of Reference. The proposed update to part 66.4 will shortly be submitted to the next CARCom and follow up AP Panel workshops will further develop the workings and administration of AP's. There is no doubt a lot of work still to be done. On the matter of Aviation Recreational Organisations (ARO's) governed by Part 149, there was also a week long workshop held with all the sections of the Aero Club on the future possible structure of AROs, regulator oversight requirements and autonomy of operation under each ARO's Manuals of Procedure (MOP). Although not a conclusive engagement, there is an understanding of the diversity of each of our recreational disciplines and that expertise within each has merit to enable self-regulation with some level of oversight. As such, further work needs to be done between the regulator and each recreational discipline, in particular to review what organisations are representative of disciplines and sub-disciplines, with an outcome to enable recreational aviators to join with the minimum barriers of entry.
Over the last number of years the overall membership of the Aero Club and its constituent sections has been in decline with a loss of 1000 members over the last four years and where we are now at 3200, surely a sign of increasingly tough economic conditions? A turbulent regulatory environment and a few other challenges that we find ourselves in plays a large part in lessening the recreational participation within the sections. This put significant pressure on the Aero Club budget and all membership fee structures in the sections. To ensure fiscal survival, significant budget restructuring had to be done, where the Aero Club had to continue without the services of a General Manager with the workload agreed to be shared among members with the requisite skills in various advocacy and technical areas co-opted to represent us on the various forums dealing with these matters. For the immediate future, this model will be continued. The Aero Club membership fee has also been reduced significantly primarily to enable and re-invigorate growth in membership, which has been a similar theme within each section and we trust this will be a springboard to start a good year for 2020.
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 benefit as in the Third Party Liability Scheme. The premiums in terms of benefit as such far outweigh the membership fees in many cases. The Aero Club is also still working on insurance to cover APs, as well as benefits for Aero Club Members on wider Insurance coverage. These will be communicated early in the new year. 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 and which numbered close to 80 or so events.
The Aero Club is also the National Aero Club representing sporting events for competitions held Internationally under the auspices of the FAI and as such, is affiliated to SASCOC in governing the conferring of Protea Colours. The FAI has also gone through some troubling fiscal times in the last 2 years with the withdrawal of major sponsorships. The General Conference held in early December in Switzerland saw significant budget cuts in the management structures and an introduction of competitor registration fees, which is not good news in keeping participation costs down as some of the costs are just passed on to the end competitor. Further turbulence is envisaged with the Ministry of Sport considering "Nationalising" all sports and sporting bodies. Proposed legislation is already available, the practicality of this is still to be seen.
Coming up to the Centenary
Year of 2020, planning is well under way but there is still a vast amount of work to be done in preparation for the celebration and we need many volunteers to assist where they can. The current team have completed a prospectus of activities which will be executed on. These will include among others, Airweek as our signature Centenary event to be held at the end of April at Middelburg Airfield and which encompasses all our sections. The aim is to achieve an Oshkosh type of event which is a fly-in, forums, air displays, flymarkets, camping, to bring together our recreational fraternity and also promote youth development. Furthermore, a planned Silver Queen Air Rally will be held in conjunction with the SAAF, which also celebrates SAAF 100. A Centenary Yearbook for which we need participation from all sections and the hosting of an international event, which SAPFA have won the rights to hold the World Rally Flying Championships in November of 2020 which will take place in the scenic area of Stellenbosch.
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, and with 2019 essentially behind us, let us all work together and support the structures that represent recreational aviation to make 2020 a year of growth, focus and revitalisation, 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.
As we bid farewell to 2019 and welcome in our centenary year, the Aero Club will continue to find ways to ensure that recreational aviation in South Africa is easy to enter. We will continue to strive for fair and equal representation to all our members that share and participate in the passion of aviation.
Best wishes Paul, Rob & Hanke