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Joining sport and recreational aviation
Benchmark events in Australian
The Australian Ultralight Federation (AUF) was formed during the 1983 convention of the Sports Aircraft Association of Australia. Subsequently the AUF signed a memorandum of agreement — with the then Department of Aviation — for the administration of power-driven ultralight aeroplane aviation in Australia. During the 28 years the AUF — now known as Recreational Aviation Australia Incorporated (RA-Aus) — has been in existence very light sport and recreational aviation has experienced considerable growth, certainly there has been much growth in AUF/RA-Aus membership, in numbers of sport and recreational aeroplanes, flight training facilities and clubs but, far more importantly, there has been real growth in knowledge, effectiveness and safety.
Sport and recreational aviation is no longer purely the realm of dedicated minimum aircraft afficionados but has matured into an authoritative industry, well endowed with professional aviation business people and a number of recreational aeroplane manufacturers in regional Australia. These manufacturers currently produce most of the Australian-made factory fly-away aeroplanes — civil or military. In addition they, and other producers, supply aircraft kits for the many home-building enthusiasts — both in Australia and overseas. At the same time there are many RA-Aus members who are exercising their skills in designing and building their own recreational aircraft, or constructing them from commercially available plans. Leisure aviation also fostered the growth of the major existing Australian manufacturer of certificated aero-engines — Jabiru Aircraft.
How the current status came about is best illustrated by reviewing the history of minimum aircraft and power-driven sport and recreational aviation in Australia.
1. The 'flexwing' hang glider and the weight-shift control trike enter the aviation scene
2. The three-axis control, minimum aircraft years: 1974–1982
3. The AUF strides onto the stage: 1983–1984
4. Taking sport and recreational aviation in hand – training aircraft and flight schools: 1985–1986
5. HORSCOT reinforces AUF administration of ultralight aviation and introduces international design standards: 1987–1989
6. Introduction of non-training two-seaters: 1990–1992
7. The consolidation years: 1993–1997
8. Amateur-built (experimental) regulations introduced: 1998–2000
9. The AUF enters its third decade and becomes RA-Aus: 2001–2004
10. The remarkable growth takes off: 2005–2009
11. RA-Aus growth begins to slacken: 2010–20??
1961 Practically all aircraft wing development since 1910 was associated with rigid wings but experiments by an American aeronautical engineer, Francis Rogallo (1912–2009), with a delta-shaped flexible wing — the Rogallo wing, which was patented in 1948 — culminated in NASA's Paraglider Research Vehicle project evaluating the flexible wing concept for suitability as a recovery vehicle for the Gemini spacecraft; among other uses in vehicle recovery. Several low-speed three-axis controlled light aircraft were built as part of the project — which was finally dropped in favour of parachute recovery. But the technology acquired helped kick-start the contemporary hang glider industry, and many foot-launched hang glider designs were developed around the world .
1963 An Australian — John Dickenson — had been working on wing designs for a tail-less kite to be towed behind the speed boats of the Grafton Water Ski Club. When shown a photograph of a Rogallo wing he decided to adapt the concept to his 'ski-wing' project. John designed a simple, flexible wing consisting of a pair of single-surface, plastic sheeting (as used for protecting banana bunches grown in the area) sails each with a leading-edge spar, joined at a centreline Douglas fir keel. An aluminium crossbar near the aerodynamic centre gave the frame some rigidity. A fixed, triangular trapeze (an 'A' frame control bar of metal tubing that is still widely used today) was attached to the crossbar, together with a freely suspended webbing harness for the pilot. The tether to the boat can be seen attached to the control bar of the A-frame.
The forward motion for the kite was provided by the boat until the tether was released. Height and direction, relative to the boat, was controlled by shifting the pilot's body fore and aft and/or side to side (and thus the centre of gravity) relative to the fixed A-frame control bar, to change the kite's pitching and rolling moments; using the pendular weight-shift control system. Bill Moyes was captivated by the utility of the system and around 1967, using a Dickenson wing, he acquired the world altitude records for such vehicles. Bill Bennett was a witness to the records, riding in the aircraft that flew alongside to confirm altitude.
1969 Bill Moyes went to Europe with the barefoot water ski team for the world water ski championships in Copenhagen, and took a hang glider for demonstration. Bill Bennett moved to America and demonstrated the Dickenson wing to the USA by flying a tow-launched aircraft around the Statue of Liberty on Independence Day. Bill Bennett did much to promote hang-gliding, particularly in the United States; it is sad to report he died aged 73 on 7 October 2004 following engine failure after take-off in a trike at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA.
For a while it looked as though self-launching, powered hang gliders with a wheeled undercarriage were likely to be the way to go, however the early 'paper-dart' type wings had a number of problems and many people around the world returned to a more conventional wing and tailplane/canard designs, some utilising the single-surface sailcloth covering of the hang glider.
(The continuing development of those early tow-launched and the later foot-launched hang gliders went on to produce a strong national and international competitive hang gliding scene, even to the extent of fitting small, back-pack engine and propeller units to the hang glider pilot's harness — powered hang gliders. And, of course, the development of the weight-shift control trike continued — and still continues.) yacht sail. The aircraft now incorporated normal three-axis control (rather than weight-shift control) utilising rudder and elevator control surfaces for yaw and pitch, and wing warping for lateral roll.
The early design was an extremely basic machine, a publication describing it as 'the ultimate in simple tube and Dacron design'; initially utilising standard yacht fittings from the local marine shop. The design incorporated a cambered, single-surface, sailcloth wing (rather than a full aerofoil wing), yacht mast tubing as the leading edge spar, and was easily transportable. This original Scout was underpowered but nevertheless, on a good day, it usually flew. The Skycraft Scout Mk2 was a factory-built minimum aircraft with an 11 hp, one-cylinder Pixie Major engine, empty weight 49 kg, maximum speed 42 knots and endurance about 40 minutes. The Scout started a new Australian industry.
1976 – 79 Ron Wheeler's persistent pursuit of the authorities to exempt minimum aircraft from the existing air navigation orders — and thus legalise the flight of his Scout — influenced the Australian Department of Transport to issue (October 1976) an Air Navigation Order under which the minimum aircraft could legally be operated. Thus was created the world's first powered ultralight legislation. ANO 95.10 later CAO 95.10, legalised the manufacture and operation of the Scout and its many fellows, and paved the way for the most significant advance in Australian private flying since the aftermath of World War 2. However, there was no requirement for minimum aircraft to be registered, or for pilots to be licensed — although quite a number of people with general aviation licences were minimum aircraft enthusiasts — and there were no defined airworthiness, design or piloting standards; indeed most enthusiasts had to teach themselves how to fly.
The Scout (that sold for about A$1800) and the enabling legislation, fired people's imagination and commenced a revolution in Australian powered minimum aircraft aviation. Ron Wheeler alone sold 200 of his Scout Mk2 and then released the Mk3 pictured above with an 18 hp Robin engine (empty weight: 59 kg, stall speed: 18 knots and available with Wheeler-designed floats) and many other variations. Clubs sprang up in Australia, and the world, and all sorts of new design aeroplanes entered an expanding minimum aircraft market. Colin Winton, one of the many Australian enthusiasts, introduced his streamlined Grasshopper and later the Cricket, the first of a line of excellent aircraft from Col Winton and his son, Scott Winton.
Gareth J Kimberley — RAAF and Qantas pilot — designed the very successful 1977 Sky Rider, a plans-built, three-axis aircraft with a single-surface sailcloth wing, conforming to ANO 95.10 and, in April 1978, founded the Minimum Aircraft Federation of Australia (MAFA) as the conduit through which the Department of Transport and part of the minimum aircraft community communicated. MAFA became the Minimum Aircraft Flyer's Association in 1982. Gareth published 'Fun flying! : a total guide to ultralights' in 1984.
Unfortunately the Australian Government regulations, though certainly enlightened for the times, restricted all flight operations to heights below 300 feet above ground level (agl) — to keep minimum aircraft operations below the 500 feet minimum operating height for general aviation aircraft. The aircraft were required to be single-seat, with a maximum empty weight of 115 kg (initially 180 kg maximum take-off weight), maximum empty-weight wing loading of 11 kilograms per square metre (2.25 pounds per square foot), maximum fuel load 15 kg, and were prohibited from flying within 300 metres of a public road or within 5 km of an airport. Basically the airframes were made from 50 or 60 metres of thin-walled aluminium tube and perhaps 35 square metres of sailcloth, and a lot of steel wire/cable. They were initially fitted with unreliable, under-powered, two-stroke engines — even chain-saw and mower engines — but quickly advanced to specifically designed engines with more capability. Such aeroplanes generally incorporated full three-axis control, but a few hybrid machines utilised a suspended, webbing pilot seat just for weight-shift pitch control.
1983 The Australian Ultralight Association was formed in 1982 and was renamed the Australian Ultralight Federation during the Sports Aircraft Association of Australia's Easter 1983 convention. Although originally conceived as simply a peak honorary body for ultralight clubs — in much the same way as the Gliding Federation of Australia* was organised — within twelve months it became apparent that ultralight fliers were not interested in this arrangement, probably because of the basically independent nature of ultralight aviation. Some 700 persons had joined the new Federation, not via a club but as individual members.
*Note: gliding began in Australia around 1929; the Gliding Federation of Australia [GFA] was formed in 1949, and initiated the concept of self-administration of sectors of aviation. Australian gliding became 'self-regulating' in 1953. The nature of gliding is very much a group activity rather than an independent operation of an individual pilot.
There was a battle for some time over which single body would be the national representative of ultralight aviation in dealing with the Commonwealth Department of Aviation (DoA that had supplanted DoT). Around this period it became evident to the DoA that these sport and recreational aircraft were here to stay and heavier, more complex ultralights would be developed; so something would have to be done to formalise the movement and do something about the very poor safety record. DoA cast about for someone to bite the bullet and accept ownership of the burgeoning ultralight movement that was developing from the minimum aircraft base. There were several contenders.
The Thruster Aircraft factory, at Kirrawee and later at Evans Head, commenced manufacture of single-seat Thrusters with 46 being built in 1983. The aircraft was a Steve Cohen development of his and Frank Bailey's 1977–1978 Stolaero/Condor designs.
1984 The AUF signed a memorandum of agreement with DoA to assist the Department to set, implement and monitor standards for ultralight aviation, which encompassed powered minimum aircraft with an empty weight exceeding 70 kg.
Work proceeded on the necessary systems and procedures and the essential AUF Operations Manual. The effort that the early AUF volunteer office bearers contributed was incredible, inheriting this big pool of enthusiastic flyers, who in many cases, knew little about aviation and, anyway, didn't want to. Unfortunately, the accident rate was making people sit up and take notice. (The Bureau of Air Safety Investigation accident data for the period 1978–1986 indicated 77 accidents involving ultralights and causing 35 fatalities and 28 serious injuries.)
It is easy to be critical of those early years, however we should not forget that all flight operations were legislated to be below 500 feet agl with the inherent danger of forced operations at very low heights (something now considered unthinkable). This was exacerbated by aircraft with extremely limited flight envelopes (for example, only a 15–20 knot (30–40 km/h) range between minimum and maximum controllable airspeeds) and with occasional stability problems.
To compound the problem, it was still illegal to be taught how to fly in a two-seat ultralight and most would-be pilots had to teach themselves in their newly-built single-seat aircraft!
The regulations were forcing ultralight aviation to operate in a regime where any sort of stall, not quickly recovered — because of a lack of supervised training in two-place aircraft — was almost certainly going to finish up as an accident. In general aviation training the recommended minimum height for practising stall recovery was then 3000 feet agl.
About this time Frank Bailey published his remarkable book on how to teach yourself to fly a minimum aircraft. The book explained all that was needed; from basic aerodynamics in simple terms to choosing a paddock from which to operate. The book cover indicates that the definition of a paddock was somewhat loose in those earlier days — the two B1-RD minimum aircraft are operating from a rather rough, dry creek bed.
Photo courtesy of the Australian Ultralight Aircraft Museum — larger image.
4. Taking powered sport and recreational aviation in hand — training aircraft and flight schools: 1985–19861985 The AUF membership reaches 800. DoA promulgated ANO 95.25 for single-place and two-place factory-built ultralights. This ANO was introduced as an interim emergency means for providing approval of two-seaters built to a defined airworthiness standard and to allow their use as commercial training aircraft for the ANO 95.10 pilots without full type certification. The AUF was thereby enabled to set up training curricula; encourage the establishment of facilities for ultralight flight training, (both within the clubs and as commercial entities); nurture their continuing existence and maintain a safety watch over their operations and abilities. (In later years all the ANO designations were changed to CAOs; i.e. Civil Aviation Orders.)
This was a big step for Australian aviation generally and again a world first; but still an ultralight could not be flown at a height in excess of 500 feet agl. The legislation specified 370 kg maximum take-off weight [MTOW] inclusive of pilot and student weight; which was somewhat low as it was difficult to accommodate two people (at the standard mean weight of 77 kg each) plus around 25 kg of fuel in a stronger, thus heavier, airframe without exceeding MTOW – so it was later increased to 400 kg. A single-place 95.25 aircraft was limited to 290 kg MTOW. The reliability and availability of purpose-built two-stroke engines are improving, along with better engine and airframe performance.
The approval of the AUF Operations Manual by DoA in effect issued an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) to the AUF covering all the AUF approved flight training facilities (FTFs). (An AOC authorises an organisation to conduct specified aerial work operations, flight training, air charter operations or regular passenger transport operations.) DoA devolved the task of assessing, approving and subsequently auditing each flight training facility, against the provisions of the Operations Manual, upon the AUF Operations Manager.
Around this time ANO 95.10 was changed to exclude commercially manufactured aircraft. This effectively stopped the factory manufacture of the single-place minimum aircraft, except for home-building from factory-supplied kits, and changed the concept of Australian ultralight aviation.
1986 Having completed a formal ultralight flight training course, AUF Pilot Certificate no. 1 was issued in March to Bill Dinsmore, the first AUF Operations Manager and the author of the initial Operations Manual.
The AUF aircraft register was established and the first aircraft issued with an ANO 95.25 compliance certificate — the Thruster Gemini two-seat trainer prototype — was registered as 25-0001 in early 1986.
(Note: Thruster 25-0001 was still flying in 2007 but under another registration number though there was a campaign underway to restore the 20-year old aircraft to its original and historical registration that had been usurped by another aircraft, but the principal leader of the campaign — Tony Hayes (the inaugural holder of the RA-Aus Meritorious Service Award) — died in 2009.)
By 1986 Thrusters had already been demonstrated overseas at the Paris Air Show and at Oshkosh, USA with export already underway in 1985. With the authority of ANO 95.25 backing it, export really got going the following year and an Australian-owned subsidiary Thruster factory opened in the UK. The process led to the construction of over 700 Thrusters in many models with versions still entering the market in 2001.
5. HORSCOTS reinforces the AUF administration of ultralight aviation and introduces international design standards: 1987–19891987 The AUF membership is now 1150. In January the HORSCOTS (House of Representatives Standing Committee On Transport Safety) 'Report on Sports Aviation Safety' (8.5 MB pdf file) confirmed that Ultralight Aviation should continue to be administered by the AUF, recommended that height ceilings should be raised, affirmed the requirement for two-place trainers and mandated that all factory-built or kit-built three-axis ultralights accord with a new design and certification standard; then under development for aircraft up to 450 kg MTOW – CAO 101.55, which was subsequently promulgated in January 1988.
HORSCOTS directed the Authority that funds be made available to the AUF to assist the Authority to set and monitor standards for ultralight aeroplanes and operations. There was no funding provided for the mandatory functions performed to administer the aircraft register, the pilot and instructor certification systems and the appointment of Chief Flying Instructors. The report also recommended that 'legislation be changed to legalise spin/stall training for ultralights and that spin/stall training in 2-seat aircraft be incorporated into the flight training syllabus of student pilots'.
1988 The Civil Aviation Act 1988 was introduced, establishing the Civil Aviation Authority from the DoA. However, as can be seen in this extract, the Act did not devolve upon CAA, or subsequently CASA, any function relating to the on-going development, or indeed the survival, of civil aviation – in any of its forms. There is no Australian government authority with any function relating to such matters with respect to recreational aviation. In the USA the Federal Aviation Administration includes the words "to foster and support all forms of aviation" in its mission statement.
However CAA (and later CASA) have done much, through legislation and attitude, to encourage the building (and maintenance) of 'experimental' ultralights by individuals and of 'type certificated' ultralights by commercial enterprises; and to devolve the management of ultralight affairs to the AUF/RA-Aus. By 2002 it was obvious that together AUF/RA-Aus and CAA/CASA had put in place one of the best, if not the best, system of very light aircraft training in the world.
1990 The AUF membership is now 2400. CAO 95.32 was released in February as an operational standard providing exemption — for weight-shift controlled aeroplanes (to be registered with the AUF or HGFA) and powered parachutes (to be registered with the AUF) — from some provisions of the Civil Aviation Regulations. CAO 95.55 was released in August as an operational standard providing exemption (for certain single-engine ultralight aeroplanes to be registered with the AUF) from some provisions of the Civil Aviation Regulations.
The CAO 95.55 aeroplanes were factory-built or amateur kit-built (ABAA) 450 kg MTOW two-seat aircraft built to the design standards and certification requirements of CAO 101.28 or the previously mentioned CAO 101.55. (ANO/CAO 101.28 was introduced in 1976 to aid amateur building of SAAA aircraft.) A CAO 101.55 factory built ultralight could be registered as a general aviation aircraft, if fitted with a certified four-stroke engine, navcom equipment and additional instrumentation. CAO 95.25 was then cancelled but did not prohibit the continuing manufacture of the 6 or 7 types already accepted under CAO 95.25.
The maximum altitude for flight operations was increased to 5000 feet amsl (or 2000 feet agl over high terrain) and at last specified a minimum operating height of 500 feet agl – except when taking-off or landing.
Around this time, after several years negotiation, the AUF, particularly represented by John Baker*, was successful in amending CAO 95.10 to allow construction of single-seat aircraft from approved commercial kits. This gave more people access to ultralighting who had neither the time nor skills to design and build their own aircraft or build from plans. Aviation took another step toward being more accessible to more people. With the wide introduction of the 95.25 two-seat trainers, and formalised training, the safety record turned the corner for the better. (And has been steadily improving ever since: the average annual fatality rate during 1996 – 2000, per 1000 registered ultralights, was only 10% of the rate in the years preceding HORSCOT.)
*John Baker was the Airworthiness (now Technical) Manager from about 1984 to 1994 and it was his efforts that produced the first edition of the Technical Manual in 1993. John's day job was as Wing Commander John Baker, RAAF, officer commanding the RAAF's Aircraft Research and Development Unit.
1991 The Jabiru Aircraft Company, of Bundaberg, Queensland, that was formed in 1988 to develop a fibreglass-reinforced epoxy polymer fabricated ultralight, received type certification under CAO101.55 for their Jabiru LSA 55 two-seat ultralight. The aircraft was then available as a factory 'fly-away' or as a kit for home-builders. This ultralight aircraft proved to be so successful that it is now (written in 2003) popular with general aviation flight schools, who otherwise have to be content with continuing to operate very old Cessna and Piper training aircraft, or spend extremely large sums for a new aircraft coming from the now severely curtailed production lines in USA.
Around this time Aerochute Industries of Melbourne — following release of their single-place parawing aircraft in 1990 — introduced their highly successful two-place powered parachute, that went on to dominate the Australian market for such aircraft.
1993 The AUF membership is now 3300. The AUF campaign for further increases in aircraft weight resulted in an increase to 480 kg MTOW for cabin-type two-seat trainers, allowing opportunity for the heavier four-stroke engines and an advance in reliability with such engines. Two-stroke engines, particularly those from Bombardier-Rotax, had now evolved to be viable power plants, but still prone to stoppages without any warning signs.
An innovative Jabiru Aircraft r&d program produced the light-weight Jabiru 1600 cc, 60 hp, four-cylinder, four-stroke engine to replace an imported engine. Jabiru '1600' powered aircraft were manufactured from 1993 to 1996, when a 2200 cc 80 hp version went into production. (Jabiru later introduced a 3300 cc six-cylinder engine version.)
1994 The AUF has now been in existence for 11 years. The following extract from the Department of Transport and Regional Services' 'Digest of Statistics, 1994' recognises the contribution of the AUF to Australian Aviation.
"The ultralight movement represents a return to the minimum aircraft, or 'grass roots' concept of powered flight. In October 1976 the Australian Government, through the then Department of Transport, introduced the world's first legislation covering the operation of ultralight aircraft. The Australian Ultralight Federation was incorporated in 1984 to oversight the operation of ultralight flying activities.
The initial restrictive legislation has since been progressively relaxed, to the extent that ultralight aircraft can now compete directly with 'conventional' aircraft in some aspects of the leisure flying and training markets. The popularity of the sport has led to a thriving and innovative Australian light aircraft manufacturing industry.
Although no statistics are available for the earlier years, it is noteworthy that the industry has grown from virtually zero in 1976 to one involving more than 1100 aircraft flying nearly 73 000 hours in 1994."
1995 –1996 Additional safety was achieved when CAO 95.55 issue 2 allowed radio-equipped ultralights to operate above 5000 feet when "flying over an area of land, or water, the condition and location of which is such that, during the flight, the aeroplane would be unable to land with a reasonable expectation of avoiding injury to persons on board the aeroplane."
Airborne Windsports Pty Ltd, of Redhead NSW, received their CAA Certificate of Approval for manufacture of aeroplanes. The company first set up operations in 1983 as a hang glider training school. In the early 1990s, Airborne designed and produced the first of what later proved to be a highly successful — both nationally and internationally — range of powered, weight-shift trikes, the Airborne Edge. Most of the company's early production was registered with HGFA, probably due to their exposure to HGFA members as hang glider tugs; the first AUF registration was recorded in 1992.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) was created in July by splitting the Civil Aviation Authority into two parts — CASA and Airservices Australia (AsA). CASA was assigned the function of conducting the safety regulation of civil air operations in Australian territory.
(It is interesting to note that later (2003) CASA was provided with a new Charter Letter setting out strategic directions for the organisation which included this paragraph: "The Government's vision for CASA is of a firm but fair regulator which focuses on core safety related functions in a way that ensures that industry meets its safety obligations, but at the same time permits development and growth in Australian aviation." This goes some way to redressing the shortcoming mentioned earlier that there is no Australian government authority with any responsibility relating to to the on-going development, or indeed the survival, of civil aviation – in any of its forms.)
In 1996 John Dickenson was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia 'In recognition of service to flying, through the invention of the 'Delta Ski Wing' and to the development of hang-gliding, paragliding and the microlite aeroplane'.
There was little growth in AUF membership during 1993 through 1997; new members joining matched normal attrition so total membership remained stagnant at around 3600 voting members.
1998 CAO 95.55 was expanded to allow a category of 'Amateur-built (Experimental)' and allowing an increase to 544 kg MTOW for two-seat aircraft to cater for newer, more reliable, four-stroke engines; more robust airframe design; a less demanding nosewheel rather than tailwheel configuration, thus providing more consistently safe landings; and an increased fuel capacity providing a longer and safer airborne endurance plus the ability to take a friend along for the ride. Consequently the number of new single-place aeroplanes entering the AUF Register started to decline while the number of two-place machines increased at a fast pace.
Each advance of MTOW, negotiated between the AUF and CAA/CASA over the years, while still restricting the seating capacity to pilot and one passenger, has made for a range of safer, stronger Australian-manufactured aeroplanes that appeal – in terms of the hip pocket and reliability and ease of handling – to a much wider recreational community, and thus encourages interest in Australian sport and recreational aviation and revives growth, while still preserving the minimum aircraft concept on which the AUF was founded.1999 In a low period in CASA/AUF relations, lobbying by the association caused the Senate to disallow tabled changes to CAO 95.55 that would have been detrimental to the members. 2001 Membership increased to 4500. CASA issued NPRM 0115SS which proposed that each AUF flight training facility must hold an Air Operator's Certificate (Sport Aviation), appoint a Chief Pilot and be audited periodically by CASA on an hourly charge plus travel basis. The costs involved and the problems associated with the FTFs being supervised by two organisations made untenable the positions of the (necessarily smaller) schools in regional areas. After a struggle the proposed changes were not implemented.
Rotec Engineering, a start-up aero-engine company at Mordialloc, Victoria had the first flight tests of a beautifully engineered seven cylinder, 2.8 litre, 110 hp radial engine (mounted on a Slepcev Storch) in December 2000. The results convinced the company that the Rotec R2800 had a niche in the homebuilt/kitplane market.
2004 AUF registered aircraft are formally accorded Australian nationality under the terms of the Chicago Convention on international civil aviation; which is relevant in ensuring that RA-Aus aircraft are not discriminated against by Australian aerodrome operators. Previously AUF aircraft were more or less legally 'stateless'. The change also closed a loophole in the application of the civil aviation regulations to RA-Aus aircraft.
The twenty one years that the AUF has been in existence has seen a major expansion in the types of aircraft on the AUF Register, but still at the heart of the light aircraft movement in Australia – as elsewhere – are those amateur builders who assemble their aircraft at home from a factory-supplied kit; or fabricate it from basic plans. Or those really dedicated individuals who build and fly their own designs. Such aircraft first registered in the CAO 95.10 category — the low-momentum ultralight aeroplanes — are still the heart of ultralight aviation even though they now represent less than 15% of registrations. Trikes from Airborne Australia and powered parachutes from Aerochute Industries are still maintaining a significant share of new aircraft registrations. Airborne received their CASA Type Certificate and Production Certificate for the Airborne XT range.
However the availability of a wide range of structurally stronger ( thus heavier) and faster commercially-engineered aircraft (some of which may also be registered with CASA as general aviation aircraft); equipped with engines of much greater reliability and capable of travelling longer distances (even non-stop from Australia to New Zealand), is encouraging many more people — of all ages — to take up flying. A surprising number of new members are middle-aged persons who have always thought they would like to fly and now, being relatively free of family commitments and work pressures have reduced somewhat, are realising that ambition.
So, over 21 years ultralight aviation and the highly successful AUF grew, from a few hundred somewhat intrepid and usually self-taught aviators, to a more general — and rather more cautious — membership of 5300 with the number of aircraft on the register in October 2004 nearly doubling the 1994 register. To reflect this broadening of the ultralight aviation community, in April 2004, the Australian Ultralight Federation changed its name to Recreational Aviation Australia Incorporated (RA-Aus).
All this from the humble beginnings of towed Dickenson kites and the Wheeler Scout, through 21 years of the AUF to an era of safe, affordable recreational aviation. It is interesting to note that on 1 September 2004 the United States Federal Aviation Administration introduced the Sport Pilot Certificate (and the Light Sport Aircraft category) for recreational and sport aviation that, if you didn't know better, might be thought to be very much modelled on the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate and the CAO 95.55 concept. RA-Aus is continuing to work with CASA on the introduction of new and simpler regulations.
2005 The success of the Association is the best thing that has happened to private powered flying in Australia since World War 2. Due to the dedication and diligence of the staff and board members, in 2005 the Association was well positioned to build on that success.
The year concluded with several noteworthy milestones occurring in December. The number of current RA-Aus flight schools passed 100, the current paid-up membership reached 5996 (12% increase in 12 months), the Jabiru Aircraft Company delivered the 1000th aircraft in its Jabiru range — to an FTF at Swan Hill, Victoria.
The work for the enabling legislation for light sport aircraft [LSA] categories to be added to CAO 95.55 and CAO 95.32 was completed and, commencing from 7 January 2006, RA-Aus registration of LSA aircraft with the maximum weight of 600 kg for landplanes and 650 kg for seaplanes was then allowed. LSA applies equally to general aviation and recreational aviation so that the boundary between these two powered aviation communities is becoming increasingly indistinct and suggests that the numbers of GA flight schools also opting for RA-Aus FTF accreditation will increase.
The Association purchased Canberra office premises to provide better staff facilities and room for expansion.
2006 John Dickenson was awarded the 2006 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Hang Gliding Diploma. The citation reads:
'John Dickenson invented the modern hang glider at Grafton, Australia. It was flown on 8 September 1963. John built scale models to determine design concepts, until a full sized glider was towed behind a speedboat. He incorporated the control bar into the airframe by designing the A-frame to distribute flight [loads?], refining this further when he invented the pendulum weight-shift control system. John developed the piloting techniques, and taught all the early pilots, including Hang Gliding pioneers Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett, to fly the wing. John Dickenson's invention has been copied by every manufacturer globally, with few minor changes for over a decade'.
While Australian general aviation still appeared to drift in the doldrums, Recreational Aviation Australia continued to forge ahead. Membership at 31 December 2006 was 6946, up 16% from the 5996 at 31 December 2005, the highest increase achieved between 1990 and 2010. The number of RA-Aus approved flight training facilities increased by 13% during 2006, totalling 113 at 31 December.
During the year 348 new registrations and re-registrations were added to the RA-Aus aircraft register. Trikes — mostly from Airborne Australia — represented 15% of new registrations and powered parachutes — all from Aerochute Industries of Melbourne — represented 10% which indicates the annual growth rate for those categories is somewhat higher than the three-axis category.
RA-Aus fees and charges were increased for the first time in nine years — apart from the GST impost.
The 2006 year saw the 20th anniversary of the issue of the first AUF Pilot Certificate.
CASA extended operations in Class E VMC airspace to RA-Aus Pilot Certificate holders.
On 21 December 2006 CASA published NPRM 0603OS, the notice of proposed rule making relating to the pending introduction of the long debated CASR Part 103 'Sport and Recreational Aviation Operations', that will make redundant the current exemption CAOs under which sport aviation operates. CASA had a target implementation date of first quarter 2007 for issue of the NPRM for the related CASR Part 149 that will define the role of recreational aviation administration organisations.
2007 The year brought, to recreational aviation, a mixed bag of continuing progress and major disappointment.
Foremost was the RA-Aus safety record, which for the first 10 months was disappointing enough in that 2007 was shaping up to be just another average year rather than an improvement, but the occurrence of three fatal accidents during the last six weeks of the year brought about a distressing reversal in the safety record. There were eight fatal accidents in 2007 in which eight pilots and five passengers died. In addition there were two other accidents where occupants were severely injured. Passengers died in nearly two-thirds of the fatal accidents, whereas the recent history has been a passenger fatality in one-third of the fatal accidents.
Growth in RA-Aus numbers
Voting membership at 31 December 2007 was just on 7800, up 12% from 2006. A total of 402 flying instructors, senior instructors and CFIs are included in the membership figure.
The number of RA-Aus approved flight training facilities increased by 13% during 2007, totalling 128 at December 31. In addition, there were about 10 satellite FTFs controlled by the CFI at a 'parent' location until a permanent onsite CFI is available. During the past three years the FTF growth rate has been healthy and consistent. Part of the growth is derived from general aviation flying schools opting for association with RA-Aus thus expanding their potential market.
RA-Aus aircraft register
During the year 346 new registrations and re-registrations were added to the aircraft register. CASA's aircraft register is appoaching 13 000 aircraft.
The long-awaited legislation for CASR Part 103 was not promulgated as hoped. Eleven years had elapsed since work on this Part and Part 149 started in 1996 — obviously the mills of regulatory change grind very slowly when associated with Australian recreational aviation. However in July 2007 CASA did publish another notice of proposed rule making NPRM 0704OS, relating to the introduction of CASR Part 149 'Sport and Recreational Aviation Administration Organisations'. This NPRM was the second related to Part 149, the previous notice of proposed rule making — NPRM 9805RP — was published in 1998 but never got anywhere.
2008 The year was very rewarding in terms of the primary goal — safe flying. There was only one fatal accident in an RA-Aus registered aircraft during the year — sadly both occupants died. There were no accidents where long-term injuries were sustained. Since the AUF/RA-Aus was established in 1983 there has been one other year (1996) where only one fatal accident occurred. Ordinary membership at 31 December 2008 was 8440. So, considering the 145% increase in membership since 1996, 2008 was the safest RA-Aus flying year ever. The average annual number of RA-Aus fatal accidents for the five-year period 2004–2008 is 4.5 — about the same as the 1999–2003 period.
Past history shows that 87% of RA-Aus accidents involve — or are directly attributed to — critical decisional errors or human factor (HF) related events. Elimination of such events might be regarded as the last frontier to be conquered in the quest for fatality-free operations. HF training of the instructor population commenced in 2007 and, by end 2008, over 70% of instructors had completed a human factors related course. HF training was added to the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate training syllabus with the introduction of a revised Operations Manual. Consequently, from August 2008 all new pilots study HF in their training. All existing Pilot Certificate holders were required to complete an HF course, or an examination, by August 2010.
RA-Aus aircraft register
During the year 312 new registrations and re-registrations were added to the aircraft register, with a number of older aircraft dropping out, bringing the total to 2805 aircraft at December 31, 2008.
The ratio of voting members to registered aircraft has hovered around 2.5:1 for some years but at the end of 2008 it had drifted up to 3:1. The average annual hours flown (in RA-Aus aircraft), currently reported by Pilot Certificate holders, has reduced a little to 32 hours; perhaps indicating that the average RA-Aus aircraft, including the training and club-owned fleet, flies about 100 hours per year.
Growth in RA-Aus numbers
Membership at 31 December 2008 is 8440, up 8% from the 7800 at 31 December 2007. The distribution of membership is:
Queensland — 2139 (25%)
New South Wales and the ACT — 2291 (27%)
Victoria — 2093 (25%)
South Australia — 927 (11%)
Western Australia — 523 (6%)
Tasmania — 278 (3%)
Northern Territory — 119 (1.5%)
Members currently overseas — 58 (0.5%)
The number of RA-Aus approved flight training facilities increased by 9% during 2008, totalling 139 at 31 December. That total excludes about 15 satellite FTFs currently operating under the control of a parent FTF.
The non-promulgation of CASR Parts 103 and 149 remains a major disappointment. To curtail some of the effects, RA-Aus requested changes to the old exemption CAOs — 95.55, 95.32 and 95.10 for the introduction of:
• Entry to controlled airspace (with CASA requiring Class 2 medicals)
• Flight over water to come in line with GA requirements (not for powered 'chutes)
• Flight above 5000 feet approved in line with GA
• Entry to active restricted areas (dependent on conditional status)
Consequently CASA established Project OS 08/13 'Early implementation of certain proposed CASR Part 103 standards via CAO'. It was expected that these changes could eventuate in 2009.
2009 The year was very disappointing in terms of the RA-Aus primary goal — safe flying. It started very well; there were no fatal accidents in the first seven months and it looked like the RA-Aus human factors training programs were starting to produce the required results.
Then there were five fatal accidents between August and December. Three of the accidents involved trikes, one of which was an unregistered aircraft. A passenger also died in one of the trike accidents. In addition, there was a sixth accident where an RA-Aus three-axis Pilot Certificate holder died in a trike registered with HGFA.
So, a year that started with a lot of promise — following the gains made in 2008 — ended very badly. In effect, maintaining the historical average annual number of 4.5 fatal accidents.
Growth in RA-Aus numbers
Although there was no evident growth in safety effectiveness; throughout 2009 there was very healthy growth in membership, flight training facilities and recreational aviation clubs. At 31 December 2009 there were 9186 ordinary members; reflecting a net increase in numbers of 746 during the year.
There was a net increase of 3936 members (or 77%) since the end of 2004. The increase reported is the sum of new members less the normal turnover of the existing membership during the period, so the number of new members added would considerably exceed the net increase reported.
The number of RA-Aus approved and independently operating flight training facilities increased by 15 (10%) during 2009, totalling 154 at 31 December. That total excludes eight satellite FTFs currently operating under the control of a parent FTF.
The number of known clubs associated with powered recreational aviation now totals around 106; again, a healthy increase during 2009.
RA-Aus aircraft register
Economic conditions seem to have affected the number of new aircraft registrations and the number of registration cancellations. The number of aircraft on the RA-Aus register at the end of 2009 was 2955; an increase of only 2% during the year.
The continuing non-promulgation of CASR Part 103 and CASR Part 149 is somewhat frustrating. This is exacerbated by CASA's October 2009 decision not to proceed with Project CS 06/01 'Proposed MTOW [750 kg] increase for aircraft operating under CAO 95.55'.
As reported in 2008 CASA, at RA-Aus urging, established Project OS 08/13 'Early implementation of certain proposed CASR Part 103 standards via CAO'. Promulgation of that has also stalled in the legislative drafting; except that, in July 2009, the Director of Aviation Safety decided to maintain the current policy of entry into controlled airspace requiring a CASA Pilot Licence.
2010 There were three fatal accidents in RA-Aus registered aircraft during the year — sadly two passengers and two pilots died. The total number of fatal accidents in RA-Aus registered aircraft during 2008, 2009 and 2010 was eight or 2.7 fatal accidents per annum, an improvement on the average for 2000 to 2007 of 4.5 fatal accidents per annum. Considering the difference in average membership, and thus hours flown in the two periods, this provides a positive indication that the human factors training introduced in 2007 is taking effect.
Growth in RA-Aus numbers
The total ordinary membership at the end of 2010 — including non-voting juniors — was 9674; a net increase of only 488 members (or 5.3%) during the year. The reduction is probably due more to an increase in normal turnover of the existing membership during the period than to a reduction in enlistment. The annual intake of new members has been increasing during the last five years but, during the same period, the number of ordinary members not renewing membership has been increasing at a faster rate. A high and increasing member turnover, or perhaps poor early retention, is not a good sign.
During 2005, 2006 and 2007 the ordinary membership increased by an average of 830 persons (13% p.a.) each year. During 2008 the increase was 8% (640 persons) and 2009 was 9.5% (798 persons). During 2010 the increase dropped to 488 persons (5%) so the annual rate of membership increase peaked in 2006 at 16% and has been receding since then, though RA-Aus states that membership is expected to reach 10 000 ordinary members by December 2011. The total membership figure may start to decrease within a few years which may be a problem for the organisation's financing.
The number of RA-Aus approved flight training facilities increased by 10% during 2010, totalling, at year end, about 170 schools operating from 190 locations. However a total of 454 flying instructors, senior instructors and CFIs are now engaged in flight training which represents a modest increase of 13% during the past three years.
RA-Aus aircraft register
The number of aircraft on the RA-Aus register increased by 261 aircraft (9%) during the 13 months since 31 December 2009. There were 350 new registrations or re-registrations in 2006, 342 in 2007, 315 in 2008, 247 in 2009 and 285 in 2010. During the last four years there has been a 11 percentage point shift away from home-builts (now 42% of total aircraft) towards increasingly complex factory-built aircraft. This has resulted in a substantial increase in the market value of the RA-Aus flight line — currently estimated at $115 million, (see table 4). This increase in market value is a worry as it restricts member acquisition of their own aircraft, which is reflected in the changing ratio of total members to total aircraft in the fleet. The lack of low price factory-built aircraft and kits is a negative factor.
In the factory-built category, powered 'chutes and trikes continue to maintain their popularity amongst association members. Fifty per cent of the new aircraft added to the register came from the three larger Australian manufacturers; Jabiru added 84 aircraft (28%) — 13 of which were kit-built, Airborne added 44 trikes (15%) and Aerochute added 20 powered parachutes (7%). Airborne also supplies trikes to HGFA members so their total share of the Australian market is much higher than indicated by the RA-Aus registrations. Airborne is quite a success story, it has now manufactured some 2100 trikes, roughly equally distributed between local and international markets. (Note: the company's registered name is 'Airborne Windsports Pty Ltd', its name for marketing purposes was 'Airborne Australia' for some time, but now prefers to be identified as 'Airborne'.
The ratio of total members to registered aircraft hovered around 2.5:1 for some years but it has been drifting up during the last few years and is now 3.0:1. However, the ratio of Pilot Certificate holders with endorsements to registered aircraft is probably more meaningful; this is currently 2.0:1.
CASA's Project OS 08/13 'Early implementation of certain proposed CASR Part 103 standards via CAO' has still not come to fruition but is expected in 2011, hopefully providing revised exemption CAOs incorporating the following changes:
• MTOW for landplanes (except low momentum ultralights) to be the lower of the aircraft's design or certificated MTOW or 600 kg.
• Flight over water rules relaxed.
• Flight below 10 000 feet approved.
2011 The year started very badly with two fatal accidents in January and continued in that vein throughout the year to total six fatal accidents. The death toll was eight — five certificated pilots, one student pilot under instruction and two passengers. There was also one ' collision with terrain' accident which did involve people on the ground and could have been horrific, but fortunately there were no serious injuries. The total fatal accidents for the five years 2007–2011 was 22 (4.4 per year) with 31 deaths. Recreational aviators are not improving quickly enough, see 'Decreasing your exposure to risk'.
The chart below is the annual record of a 5-yearly average of the number of fatal accidents.
Growth in RA-Aus numbers
The total ordinary membership at 31 January 2012 — including 31 non-voting junior members — was 10 008; a net increase of only 334 or 3.5% from January 2011. The corresponding membership increase in 2010 over 2009 was 5%, 2009 over 2008 was 9.5%; 2008 over 2007 was 8%. The increase reported is the sum of new members enrolled (1956 in 2011) less the turnover of the existing membership during the period; that latter turnover was very high during 2011 totalling 1580 persons representing 16% of the membership at the beginning of 2011. Many of the persons who allow their membership to lapse will renew it in the following year, or later, after the circumstances that forced them to stop flying have improved. Such renewals of lapsed membership are not included as new members in the year of renewal.
Some trend lines are added to this record of total membership (those with voting rights) from 1985 to the end of 2011. As you can see a period of stagnant growth existed during the five years 1994 through 1998. However, the 1998 introduction of the 'Amateur-built (Experimental)' category to CAO 95.55, fuelled an increasing interest in very light aeroplanes that resulted in six years (1999 through 2004) of moderate but sustained growth, where RA-Aus membership ultimately reached a seemingly critical mass of 5000 members. (The growth rate in the 1999-2004 period was similar to that in the 1988 though 1993 period.) The next five years, 2005 through 2009, saw a phenomenal expansion that increased membership by 77% to 9000. However this increase of 4000 members was not matched by a corresponding increase in aircraft ownership — the RA-Aus register increased by only 700 aircraft or 31% during the same five years.
The 2010-2011 period shows a definite slowdown in the rate of membership growth, 5% in 2010 and 3.5% during 2011. At the end of 2011 about 66% of the membership did not own an aircraft — perhaps the highest proportion ever — so the current high cost of hiring, for possibly 66% of the members, no doubt makes a significant contribution to the circumstances prompting non-renewal of membership.
RA-Aus aircraft register
The number of aircraft on the register increased by 198 aircraft (6% increase) during the 12 months since 31 January 2011, 246 were added and 48 dropped off. The swing away from home-builts (now 42% of total aircraft) towards increasingly complex (and rather expensive) factory-built aircraft seems to have stabilised during the past three years. The market value of the RA-Aus flight line is currently estimated at $125 million with an average unit value around $36 500.
The CASR Part 103* compliant exemption CAOs were issued in April:
CAO 95.4 GFA gliders/motor gliders.
CAO 95.8 HGFA hang gliders/paragliders plus powered variants.
CAO 95.10 RA-Aus/HGFA low-momentum ultralights.
CAO 95.12 ASRA gyroplanes.
CAO 95.12.1 ASRA LSA gyroplanes.
CAO 95.32 HGFA/RA-Aus weight shift controlled aeroplanes and powered parachutes.
CAO 95.54 ABF hot-air balloons and airships.
CAO 95.55 RA-Aus ultralight aeroplanes.
for further information, see 'An overview of the legislative framework enabling powered recreational aviation'.
*CASR Part 103 and Part 149 seem to have disappeared from view; however, in March 2011 the Director of Aviation Safety [CASA's chief] announced that CASA's recreational and sport aviation regulatory functions have been moved from the Standards Division to the Office of the Director of Aviation Safety, reporting to the Associate Director of Aviation Safety. Hopefully this will result in more decision making being directed toward the long overdue promulgation of CASR Part 103 'Sport and Recreational Aviation Operations' and Part 149 'Sport and Recreational Aviation Administration Organisations'.
The long history of the proposed Part 103 and Part 149 legislation perhaps reveals a reason for the Director to now assume close oversight. The first notices of proposed rule making [NPRM] relating to Parts 103 and 149 were published 13 years ago (about two years after initial industry discussions) as NPRM 9808RP and NPRM 9805RP. These were subsequently followed, in 2000, by a set of rules drafted by the Attorney General's Department as another NPRM, which was promptly withdrawn by the then Director of CASA.
Six years later, in December 2006, CASA published NPRM 0603OS, the current proposal relating to Part 103 followed, in July 2007, by NPRM 0704OS, the third proposal relating to Part 149.
Copyright © 2002–2012 John Brandon [contact information]