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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 612

Mrs DARLING —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Transport Safety, I present the report of the Committee on sports aviation safety, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mrs DARLING —by leave-The Committee's inquiry into sports aviation safety arose in response to a number of concerns raised by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Peter Morris). The Committee was asked to review the whole spectrum of sports aviation activities, particularly the safety and regulatory aspects. Sports aviation encompasses gliding, hang-gliding, parachuting, ballooning, ultralights, gyrocopters, aerobatics and model aircraft.

Quite early in the inquiry it became obvious to us that the major problems were in the ultralight area. The majority of the report is therefore directed at the ultralight problem. The Committee did not find any significant safety problems in the remaining sports aviation activities. Given the similarities between ultralights and powered hang-gliders, or trikes as they are commonly referred to, airworthiness and pilot certification for powered hang-gliders should be of the same order as those for ultralights. The Committee has treated them as such.

I am aware that a considerable amount of interest in this report exists within aviation circles. Work by the Department of Aviation on ultralight regulatory proposals has stopped, awaiting the recommendations of the report. The Committee members have taken this to heart and appreciate the fact that the Minister and others are awaiting the recommendations. The ultralight community is expecting these recommendations to overcome many well-entrenched problems. Committee members have taken their task seriously and hope that the result will meet these expectations. Certainly there has been speculation about how specific our recommendations will be, particularly because of the technical nature of airworthiness, flight handling and performance. We have made a number of specific recommendations aimed at overcoming aircraft, pilot and regulatory problems confronting the ultralight movement.

We found that current ultralight regulations were inadequate to promote aviation safety and have recommended changes to both existing ultralight categories-ANO 95.10 and ANO 95.25. We could not sanction the existence of the ANO 95.10 category, which enables an aircraft without any airworthiness or safety requirements to be flown by a pilot without any sort of licence. We do not wish to prevent owner-builders from the pleasure they obviously get from constructing their own aircraft, but feel it is absolutely necessary to recommend the addition of specific minimum airworthiness requirements and to require that the construction process be supervised.

The Committee has recommended that the existing 95.10 category of ultralight be replaced by a category limited to owner-designer-builders, covering single place aircraft with a maximum empty take-off weight of 150kg, together with basic airworthiness requirements to at least the standard specified in the AUF Technical Bulletins Nos. 1 to 4. The Committee members were very impressed with the work that had been put into these bulletins and we wish to commend the AUF for that.

We have recommended that ANO 95.25 be replaced by the proposed ANO 55 series-that is, the new series, 101.55, 100.55 and 95.55-but incorporating a few additional requirements. The Committee believes that all commercially built ultralight aircraft, including kits, should comply with ANO 101.55. We have recommended this because comprehensive safety requirements are needed for the protection of consumers. The Committee has further recommended that the airworthiness requirements of the ANOs be declared a product safety standard under the Trade Practices Act. There was a unamimous agreement and concern amongst committee members when we discovered that imported kit planes could actually be bought at a shop, taken home and assembled in a backyard, and then people could climb into them and fly sharing the airways with general aviation aircraft without any type of regulation or protection at all.

A related regulatory issue is the problem of the proliferation of overweight, illegal ultralight aircraft. The problem has been allowed to continue, with almost no enforcement of the regulations, for the past 10 years. After considering various options we concluded that a 12-month amnesty, with certain requirements and conditions, was the best and fairest solution to the problem. Many owners of illegal aircraft have sought ways in which they could be made legal. The Committee is sympathetic to their plight but unwilling to contemplate solutions which abdicate all responsibility for safety. An amnesty for aircraft up to 150 kilograms empty weight will allow many aircraft now illegal to become legal and provide measures which will allow owners to upgrade progressively the classification of their aircraft.

The Committee also found that the current 500 foot height restriction applying to ultralight aircraft was too low for safety. Greater height gives a better chance of recovery as well as a much wider choice of landing places in an emergency. Ultralights are more vulnerable to air turbulence than larger faster aircraft, and wind and thermal turbulence is far greater at low levels. Because of this we have recommended two higher ceilings for ultralights. These are 3,000 feet when fitted with a radio and 1,500 feet without. There are some other conditions to these increases. We have also recommended that, three years after the implementation of the new ceilings, a review should be made of their safety.

We concluded that the current level of pilot safety and instructor training is inadequate. Although the safety of third parties is addressed in current ultralight regulation, the regulations fail to address the safety of the pilot. To ensure safety we have recommended that all ultralight pilots be certificated to a certain minimum standard. We think this is necessary. We have recommended a formal testing and training process for ultralight instructors before they begin to teach students. One of the unsatisfactory elements of the situation we came across is the necessity for people learning to fly ultralight aircraft to choose between flying in a single seater legal aircraft meaning that the person learning to fly has to do a dummy run of kangaroo hops on the ground and then do his maiden flight solo or flying illegally in a two seater with someone beside him. We found that was not satisfactory, although it should be said that the Committee has welcome the Government's action in setting up ultralight training schools, such as the one at Lovelybanks Airstrip, and we welcome the approval of two-seater craft which are of legal weight, although there must be more.

The Committee was very concerned regarding the areas of ultralight accident investigation and release of accident information to the ultralight community. We found that significant problems existed here. The investigation of ultralight accidents receives a very low priority compared with other aircraft accidents. Release and dissemination of the results of accident investigations, which are designed to prevent similar future accidents, have been poor. We found that many of the problems stemmed from the central office of the Department of Aviation. We have recommended the reallocation of priorities within the Department and the implementation of an efficient accident notification scheme as essential, if the situation is to improve.

The Committee heard allegations of illegal and unsafe aircraft which continue to be manufactured and sold, despite having been involved in fatal accidents, even after those accidents were attributed to certain design deficiencies. The Department was unable to give a valid reason for its prolonged inactivity in this regard, nor did it give any undertaking that appropriate action would be taken against unsafe aircraft in the future. The Committee, regrettably, found that whilst the Department had apparently co-operated with other sectors of sports aviation it had demonstrated a lack of responsibility in ensuring the safety of ultralight aircraft. It had taken virtually no action against aircraft which were drawn to its attention as unsafe and which were involved in a number of accidents, under the guise of being unsure of its legal powers.

Many difficulties arose in efforts to develop self-regulation in the ultralight movement, which eventually resulted in a serious communication breakdown between the Department and ultralight representatives. The Committee found that a regulatory impasse had developed due to a combination of: A naive and unstable ultralight movement in certain sectors; unreasonable departmental expectations; and a lack of consultation between the Department and the Australian Ultralight Federation, the national ultralight body. Conflicting perceptions of ultimate responsibility resulted in almost nil enforcement of the regulations in relation to illegal and unsafe aircraft. We concluded that compulsory aircraft registration, clearly delineated responsibilities and widespread consultation should overcome the major problems and ensure that regulatory and safety standards are acceptable to both parties. The Committee was encouraged, however, by the improved relations between those two bodies towards the end of the inquiry and believes that this, together with the implementation of the regulations, will improve the safety standards of ultralight aircraft for those participants who enjoy the sport.

The Committee recommends that the Air Navigation Act 1920 be amended to require the tabling of air navigation orders in each House, so that Parliament can oversee the use made of this delegated power. We have made a number of other recommendations which I will not detail here, but I refer interested people to the full report and defer to some of my colleagues on the Committee. We would like to recognise those individual officers of the Department of Aviation and adherents of sports aviation across Australia who really went out of their way to assist the Committee in its deliberations. That co-operation was excellent.

I would like personally to place on record my thanks to all members of the Committee, who worked with dedication during the course of the inquiry-the Deputy Chairman, the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck), who took a fair share of the chairmanship of proceedings with me, as has been characteristic of his performance with this Committee; the honourable member for Greenway (Mr Gorman); the honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis), the intrepid flyer, as he has been nicknamed; the honourable member for Streeton (Mr Lamb); the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran); the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Mildren); and the honourable member for Bruce (Mr Aldred), who replaced the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) who replaced the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) at the end of 1985. I thank them all for the way in which they co-operated and gave much time to this important report. The Committee would also like to thank the secretariat staff: Allan Kelly, who has supported us through a number of hearings; Monica Telesny, our research officer, whose special task was the complete researching of the inquiry and who operated with distinction on this, her first committee report-congratulations, Monica-and Catherine Saunders, our steno-secretary, who was responsible for an excellent typing and typesetting job. I also thank Mr Greg Adkins for the majority of the photographs, officers of the Department of Aviation and Australian Ultralight Federation, and lastly our advisers, Mr John Blackler and Mr Peter Stephens.