Australian community services flight operator Angel Flight Australia warns that it would be forced to cease operations if the nation’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority goes ahead with its preferred option of an approved self-administering aviation organisation (ASAAO) overseeing such charity operations.

Since it launched in 2003, Angel Flight has conducted more than 16,900 flights transporting people from rural and remote Australia to medical treatment, with more than 2,800 volunteer pilots flying over 2,600 patients on 16,800-plus missions in their personal aircraft.

In a recently released discussion paper on safety standards for community service flights conducted on a voluntary basis, CASA proposes 10 options for future safety management. The options comprise administrative ones – status quo with a passenger safety briefing, additional pilot training and checking requirements or implementation of a volunteer community service pilot registration system – use of an ASAAO or conduct of operations under an air operator’s certificate. Other options involve operational requirements that may be implemented with one or more administrative option, including flightcrew licencing requirements, aircraft operational limitations, aircraft certification and maintenance requirements and a public education programme.

Stakeholders have until 10 October to respond. CASA acknowledges the vital role performed by operators such as Angel Flight and Little Wings, but says it must adopt a “regulatory strategy that properly balances consideration of the safety risks inherent in a particular activity with rational approaches to the mitigation of those risks”.

CASA says it does not believe the status quo – whereby any aircraft can be used with any pilot’s licence – “to be sound safety regulation”. “As community service flights become more widely used, the variable pilot qualifications and aircraft certification and maintenance standards become significant potential risk factors,” CASA says. The authority’s preferred option is the establishment of an ASAAO. Its second preference is a pilot registration system, with specific pilot experience and training requirements, operational limitations and minimum aircraft standards.

Angel Flight chief executive and founder Bill Bristow argues CASA’s preferred option is “crippling red tape”. He says: “If we tried to continue our service under CASA’s preferred option, then we would have to cease as a charity and become a bureaucratic aviation organisation.” The charity would have no choice but to shut down, he warns.

Bristow says Angel Flight’s operational guidelines already exceed the requirements of private flight in Australia, with pilots required to have a minimum of 250 hours in command, fly a VH-registered aircraft and provide proof of licence, ratings and medical currency. “Safety is a priority at Angel Flight, and nowhere in the CASA document does the authority raise any serious safety concerns,” he adds.

CASA rejects claims it is trying to shut down such operations, and says all it has done is to begin a discussion about aviation safety issues relating to the sector.

Source: Flight International