I am both astounded and disappointed by how passively the recreational flying industry is accepting the demise of its Recreational Aviation Administration of SA (RAASA).
RAASA was formed under the watch of the then CAA head, Captain Colin Jordan, who was seconded from SAA to rescue the CAA from the ignominy of an FAA downgrade. Once he had fulfilled his usefulness, he was ditched as an undesirable white man, despite the vast repository of management skill and wisdom he brought to the position.
The unlamented ending of RAASA raises the question of whether it was a mistake to begin with. I would argue that it was in fact an excellent initiative, as no one is better suited in terms of enthusiasm and knowledge base to administer recreational aviation than those involved with the sport itself. Note that this administration did not create self-regulation – this was retained by CAA. And by almost all accounts, RAASA did a good job – certainly better than the CAA’s own abysmal standard of service pre RAASA.
So the idea of RAASA is sound – even if some general aviation bodies vociferously criticised its legal standing. What appears to have been RAASA’s undoing is South Africa’s remarkably liberal allowance of commercial operations by non-type certified aircraft (NTCA). This had many benefits, amongst others: ab-initio pilots could train on far more affordable and better equipped aircraft than 50 year old Cessnas and Pipers. Also, commercial NTCA builders arose, which, while being the antithesis of the experimental homebuilt, were a sensible solution in that, being professional builders, they removed the vagaries of homebuilt standards and experimentation in NTCAs. It was also a far more pragmatic solution to the problem the USA has managed through its cumbersome 51% owner-built rule.
The problem appears to be that commercial interests undermined the original non-profit ethos of recreational aviation. There were some spectacular deviations from the idea of non-profit little homebuilt planes. Thunder City sold flights to high profile entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson on its magnificent NTCA Lightnings and the safety of these flights was called into question by the tragic death of test pilot Dave Stock. Then there was the trauma and expense of the Berwick case, where tourist Diane Berwick paid for a ‘training’ flight on a paraglider and was paralysed in a landing accident.
But there were also some wonderful successes. Professional aircraft builders such as Robin Coss and Tony Bailes made the fantastic performance and economy of RVs available to many. Likewise, Jabiru South Africa has built far more and far better Jabirus than anywhere else in the world. Andrew Pappas and The Airplane Factory have built purely South African aircraft that we can be really proud of, and that would not have happened if NTCA had been kept strictly non-commercial.
Closing RAASA throws the baby out with the bath water. I believe the aviation community and the Aero Club should once again gird its loins and fight for self-administration of genuine recreational aviation.