We are not alone. In his column this month, AOPA-SA President Chris Martinus shares how the general aviation industry in Australia is being crushed by the increasing load of regulation.
The issue is that the South African CAA all too often acts unreasonably. Service levels have fallen dramatically. What used to take an hour or two, now takes weeks. Even the routine task of renewing your pilot’s licence takes a few weeks. And the vexatious renewal of aircraft Certificates of Airworthiness is beyond excuse, taking in the case of our Saratoga, ZS-OFH, more than three months.
Not having a producible pilot’s licence and then not having the C of A card kept me on the ground for over a month. Given the high fixed costs of aircraft ownership and of maintaining a valid licence, this is unacceptable. If I had to rely on the aircraft and my having a licence to earn a living, this inefficiency would be unforgivable.
The problem is that there are no checks or balances to counter the CAA's urge to create more regulations and complicate things to create more work and thus employees. In 2007, the CAA staff count was 320 and in the ten years to 2017 it has swelled to 514. Even more alarming is the huge increase in the salary bill. In 2001 it was just R31 million. Within six years this had grown three hundred percent to R105 million, and now it is a further three times larger at a whopping R349 million. Yet the number of aircraft and pilots has barely changed.
I find it hard to believe that, even allowing for inflation, there can be any justification for an eleven-fold increase in the CAA’s salary bill over the past 16 years. The truly scary finding is that in 2001, the CAA cost each of the 7,700 aircraft on the register around R4,400. By 2017, the CAA cost each aircraft R29,000 – assuming 12,500 aircraft.
Has the quality of service improved and has the accident rate come down? Unfortunately, we don’t know what the accident rate is because, despite spending a reported R93 million on an IT business management system, it appears that the CAA is still unable to produce an accident rate per million hours flown. What we do know is that the number of accidents is down – but that’s because general aviation pilots are flying less.
Much was expected of the new IT system, but it seems it is yet to bear fruit. In the meanwhile, service standards have declined badly. The documentation requirement has increased exponentially, with sworn affidavits for documents that were previously accepted with the pilot’s signature. Paper files are still getting mislaid all over the buildings and the information not captured.
The CAA has become a bloated bureaucratic monster. There is increasing pressure to mount a class action law suit against it for bad service. And it needs a force to balance its heavy-handed regulation. We as CAA clients have no appeal against the organisation’s poor service and unreasonable bureaucratic demands. It’s time for a civil aviation ombudsman.