Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Up in the air

So, it appears I am a bit of a career chameleon. To be honest, I've never really had what my Dad would have called a "proper job". Since the age of 19 I have been self-employed and/or running my own business.
I don't really know the security of pensions, employment contracts, paid leave and all the other benefits of being a fulltime employee.
If I take leave, I don't earn money. It's that simple.
So why, after nearly 30 years as a broadcaster, did I choose to set-up my aerial filming business? Well, I fancied being in some sort of charge of my own destiny - and I wanted a new challenge. The challenges in broadcasting were becoming stagnant. My "career" as a presenter was becoming less in-demand as "reality" (cheap) tv took over. If the public wants fast food tv, that's what they get.
Aviation and filming appealed. My passions for helping to make great visual images and being in the truly 3D world of flying were sated.
That love affair still exists today, nearly 10 years later, despite the fact I have spent most of this morning decoding the latest regulatory missive from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Simply trying to find out what they mean in their bold statements is to enter a jungle of jargon. It all appears to be designed by retired Soviet bureaucrats who've sold themselves as consultants to western Europe.

1) The Civil Aviation Authority, in exercise of its powers under Article 242 of the Air Navigation Order 2009 ('the Order'), hereby exempts any helicopter or gyroplane, together with the operator and commander thereof, from the requirements of Article 37(2) and paragraph 4(15)(b)(v)(dd) of Schedule 4 to the said Order, to carry the equipment specified in paragraph 5, Scale EE(1) of Schedule 4, subject to the conditions set out below.

2) This Exemption applies to aircraft flying above the part of the River Thames contained between Kew Bridge and the Isle of Dogs with the permission of and in accordance with any instructions given by the appropriate air traffic control unit.

3) This Exemption supersedes Official Record Series 4 No. 877, which is hereby revoked.

4) This Exemption shall have effect from the date hereof until 30 September 2013 unless previously revoked.

I hope you get the idea. Our industry is governed by the UK Air Navigation Order. This 480-page document makes reading a whole new black art. Labyrinth is the word, I think. Lord only knows how many pilots and operators have broken rules that they didn't even know existed. To read the ANO you actually need to open it in at least 3 separate pdf windows, such is the level of cross-reference required.

It gets worse. For the last decade at least we have been treated to the "harmonisation of European airspace" and the "One Skies" policy of the EU. This has resulted in more confusion than a pack of meerkats on ice skates.

Our end of aviation is called GA - General Aviation. This catch-all describes just about anything that isn't a commercial airliner or military. Farmer with flex-wing checking his animals, private pilots having fun, young pilots training to be professionals, air ambulances. It's an industry which thrives on green shoots, enthusiasm and a high level of training.

It is being strangled to its early death by over-regulation, confusion, badly-drafted laws and a draconian regulatory authority who pick pointless fights instead of concentrating on the freedom of the skies. The costs of regulation have soared (no apologies for the pun) as the layers of bureaucrats have their day - the State doesn't pay for this disaster, we're funding our own firing squad. And so the costs of participating start to get beyond reasonable reach.

GA has suffered from the money crisis like many areas of commerce, and it certainly wasn't helped by the ridiculous knee-jerk called Olympics Airspace Restrictions. Just about every south & south-east GA business has suffered tremendous losses for the 2-month airspace restrictions. And there's no compensation being paid for those losses.

So please, find your nearest small airfield. Join the Club, meet the folks, take a little introductory training or sight-seeing flight. It won't cost more than the price of that chair that you shouldn't be sitting on right now. Support GA.

This country pioneered flight. Our inventors and designers built such fantastic machines and there's something British in every aircraft on the planet. All those people were a part of GA. All the small airfields (used and disused) that cover our countryside come from a time when we pioneered, we pushed the world along - we didn't follow, we led. Yes - world wars accelerated some of this. But let's never forget that it was our own Government who turned down the idea of the Spitfire. A project that was only saved by a Mussolini-hating Italian socialite. Female, by the way.

The old airfield where Spitfires were serviced & rebuilt near Southampton is lost. Please don't let this part of our heritage die. Please help keep GA alive.

Footnote: the extract above is from a CAA document which tells us that we don't need to comply with a European regulation about instruments to be carried onboard helicopters in certain circumstances. I know - I have the cross-eyes to prove it. How much did it cost to draft a regulation over a number of years, and then it gets ignored?


  1. At least you are still doing something you love (DJ and now pilot). I'm terrified of flying! BTW many people inc myself grew up loving Jimm'll fix it this is another sad day for us over 40's as yet another TV personallity lets us down.

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