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Ignorance and incompetence rulez!

14 November 2017

As regular readers will know, I have a workshop at the Tokoroa Airfield.

I also fly RC model aircraft and drones at the Tokoroa Airfield.

What's that? You thought that the public were being told "do not fly drones near an airport"?

Well yes, that's generally the rule of safety -- but here in the South Waikato, our civic management doesn't follow the same set of rules as the rest of the world.

Our airfield is very much a multiple-use facility which regularly sees the runways closed for events such as drag-racing, driver training, high-speed model aircraft and other such things.

For this reason, it is very important that everyone, both the aviation and non-aviation users, understand the importance of basic safety rules.

Sadly, the local council doesn't seem to have the slights grasp on the realities of safely running a multiple-use facility like this -- they've even admitted it to the media. However, that won't stop them from blundering ahead and endangering lives and property!

The latest "brainwave" by council is the introduction of an air-traffic logging system called Aimm.

In essence, Aimm is a very simple system. It records pilots' radio transmissions and uses them to build up a database of aircraft movements around the airfield.

All take-offs, landings and touch-and-goes are logged and for several hundred dollars a month, the airfield owner (the council in this case) gets a report which details all the "action". They also get a list of invoices which represent those who used the airfield and the amount they owe by way of "landing fees".

However, the *big* selling point (at least to local councils who have airfields) is the "health and safety" pitch.

I have no doubt that this sounds like a fantastic "let's cover our arses" strategy to most council bureaucrats. If/when something bad happens, they can say "but look, we were told that this system proved our commitment to H&S so we're good".

The reality is that, in the hands of a council which has proven its total lack of experience, expertise or understanding of aviation, the information provided by Aimm simply becomes a way of apportioning blame if/when something bad happens. It in no way prevents bad things from happening in the first place and, in the case of the Tokoroa Airfield, appears to significantly REDUCE the safety of the facility.

"How can that be?" I hear you ask (go on, you know you want to ask...).

Well I've already noticed several aircraft performing touch-and-goes and landings at the airfield without making any radio calls.

As a matter of course, I have a radio tuned to the local frequency (123.25MHz) running when I'm in the workshop. Most of the time I hear approaching aircraft call up via their routine radio calls and I also hear them announcing their position in the circuit as they prepare for a landing or touch'n go.

However, it is those radio calls which the Aimm system uses to bill such aircraft for the "landing fees" that our local council is now chasing. The vast majority of pilots still make these radio calls but in the past week I've seen two aircraft which have kept radio silence. I spoke to one of the pilots who told me "I won't use my radio at small airfields with Aimm, it saves money".

RC model fliers using the airfield are required to have a radio tuned to the local operating frequency so that we can hear the calls of approaching aircraft and ensure that we have landed and cleared the runway before they reach us. If some (albeit a very tiny few) pilots choose to not use their radios, the risk associated with all activities at the airfield (not just model flying) goes up enormously.

So what the hell are the council doing with this lame-brained scheme?

Even the economics of using the Aimm system just don't add up.

I'm at the airfield all-day, every-day during the summer and I see only a very few casual landings (ones that qualify to pay landing fees) in a week. From November 1st 2016 through March 31st 2017, the SWDC collected the princely total of $25 in landing fees. That's an average of $5 a month.

The Aimm system costs them probably around $400-$500 a month to use.

Even if use of this system produces a 1000% increase in the collection of casual landing fees... they're still paying out ten times more than they're receiving from these fees!

But the real kicker is that, while they might think this is covering their arse from a health & safety perspective -- it is quite demonstrably decreasing safety at the airfield (for all users, including pilots) due to the rather unique multiple-use aspect of this small, rural facility.

Should I go to council and tell them about the ridiculous and very risky situation that their incompetence and stupidity has created?

Hell no... because I know that their response would be to say "well we'll ban all non-aviation uses of the airfield then" -- and thus the facility would become even more of a burden on ratepayers and spend even more of its time simply lying dormant and growing grass.

What do you do with clowns like this who just have no idea what they're doing?

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