Saturday, December 8, 2007

On the medical certificate and CASA's cost recovery model

In Australia, you do not need a medical certificate to start learning to fly, but you definitely need one when the time has come to fly on your own.

As a beginning student pilot, it was difficult for me to imagine that my first solo may be just a few months away. Everything was new. The plane liked to behave in seemingly unpredictable manners. There was never enough time in a circuit to perform all the required actions and go through all the checklists, even when flying a 152 that could barely go faster than the end of the white arc with two people onboard.

Even if you see your first solo as a distant point in the future, you want to be ready for that special day when you’ll take off on your own for the first time. Not being able to fly solo because you delayed going to the doctor would be rather sad.

The process for obtaining the medical certificate is not overly complicated. The price is another story, and I’ll come back to that later.

You start by choosing a doctor in the list given by CASA, and show up on the day with your ARN and photo identification. The nice lady at reception will have you fill in a medical questionnaire, after which you’ll see the doctor. Make sure you go for a Class 2 medical certificate. Class 1 certificates are for professional pilots, while Class 3 are for ATC personnel.

Since I did not have any significant medical history, the medical examination was not different from a routine check-up at the doctor. On the topic of ears I mentioned that I am prone to ear infections while swimming and diving. The doctor picked up on that and was very happy to show me the pictures of his last diving trip to Vanuatu.

Speaking of diving, I found this medical examination actually less thorough than the one required for the PADI Open Water Diver course. That’s probably because private pilots do not fly airplanes through water while breathing through a regulator. Both medical examinations put your sense of balance to the test though. I guess that’s because spatial disorientation may occur in pretty much the same way whether you’re (accidentally) flying through clouds as a private pilot or diving in murky water.

The medical examination itself was $170, on top of which CASA happily slaps a $130 “processing fee”, which brings the total cost of the medical to $300.

In-between the SPL and ASIC applications (see my previous post) and the medical certificate, that’s $510 that a student pilot needs to shell out in overhead costs before his first solo. Just to put things in aeronautical perspective, that’s 2.4 hours of dual instruction in a 152.

Now, I understand that the doctor needs to be remunerated for the medical examination, even though one may find $170 a bit much for what amounts in practice to a long visit to the doctor.

The level of CASA fees can be explained by the so-called cost recovery model, which forces CASA to recover costs “for providing regulatory services to the aviation industry “. Actually, I just found out that the processing fee had been reduced from $130 down to $75 as of July 1st, 2007. That should help a little bit, even if the principle of cost recovery remains in place.

Talking about the cost of training, CASA recently release a comparative study of the cost of flying training in Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK. The bottom line is that the UK is most expensive, Oz and NZ are comparable, and the US are a bit cheaper. What I also discovered is that administrative costs in the US are near zero, including for the medical, as shown in the diagram below, taken from the survey.

However, CASA does not see this as impacting the viability of flying training organisations in Australia, so there’s unfortunately no sign that Australia would be moving to the American model anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info.
I'm 15 and had a look at the cost of learning in the 152. Im extreamly lucky because I do an aviation course in high school. My instructor is my teacher and I only pay for the aircraft (C152 at $143 an hour).

Thanks again for the info.

Julien said...

Hi Harry,

Are you at Aviation High in Brisbane? I heard an ad for it on the radio once. Which aerodrome are you based at?

$143 an hour for a C152 is indeed a very good deal those days :-) Best of luck with your flying training, I'm sure you'll have a blast.


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