I sold our Piper Saratoga II TC more than a year ago and I still miss it almost every day. But I’m not sorry I sold it.
It was a great all-round aeroplane: faster than most 210s and Bonnies, (send your letter to junkmail.com) it had lots of space inside, easy access for the rear passengers and was a wonderful camera ship. On one occasion I even flew an air-to-air sortie with a Boeing 737 – and we flew around the outside of the Boeing in a turn.
I sold it because it was just to expensive to operate – particularly for an aviation publication being squeezed between cuts in print advertising and the pressure on general aviation. The Saratoga’s engine had about 300 hours to an overhaul that I was told would cost over R1m. This despite it having just had a top overhaul.
And here’s the problem: In South Africa we have a civil aviation regulator which insists that the manufacturer’s recommended overhaul times be compulsory. It was particularly galling to have to throw away our C182’s perfectly good engine at just 1,500 hours. I challenge the CAA to show me any significant accidents that happened before the TBO became mandatory because an engine was flown beyond its recommended TBO. The American FAA has a far more pragmatic approach and allows Part 91 operators to fly their engines based on ‘condition’ reports. But our CAA cannot trust South African pilots?
What to replace the Saratoga with? I considered Non-Type Certified Aircraft (NTCA). However, there is a pervasive concern that the CAA will soon end the very successful Approved Person scheme and make NTCA maintenance subject to sign-out by Approved Maintenance Organisations – at great expense.
The CAA has now requested comment on regulations that will make training no longer permissible on NTCAs. This will be a severe setback to much PPL training in South Africa as it is the use of NTCAs such as Slings that have kept flying instruction reasonably affordable and the profit margins worthwhile for the flying schools. And the Slings have stood up remarkably well to the rigours of flight school ops with some approaching 5000 hours.
The CAA’s administration remains a challenge. I renewed my licence recently and it was a major logistical exercise. I no longer live in Jo’burg and had to arrange to pass through the city on two days, a week apart – to hand in my documents and then to get them back. I also had to make a trip to the police station to get my paper logbook attested, but inexplicably - not if it had been a digital logbook. This is not progress compared to the previous system where the officials trusted their files – and you were able to renew your licence while you wait.
The CAA is bureaucracy out of control. Because of the sheer difficulty of dealing with the CAA I don’t imagine I will buy another plane, and in a few years my licence may lapse. I see many signs of pilots just quietly deciding there is no longer any fun in it and selling their planes, hangars and headsets.
Thus is the CAA choking general aviation to death.