A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GFA
Any history of the GFA, however brief would be incomplete without some reference to the status of Civil Aviation in Australia at the time of the Federation's formation in 1949. The Department of Civil Aviation [DCA] was then a large and influential organization headed by a Director-General with its own Federal Minister.
Following WW2 the policies which would take civil aviation into peaceful expansion were being formulated and the foresight of the gliding enthusiasts who persuaded the Department to allow the sport to be self-regulated and administered can only be admired. Had this not been agreed it is highly likely that gliders would simply have been joined with light-aircraft in a totally regulated, licensed and limiting environment. The consideration and good will of the DCA officials who allowed this experiment in a departure from normal procedures must also be appreciated.
Once the GFA was formed, the initial spirit of freedom traditionally so evident in the sport was confirmed, the accent of the new national organisation being on independence and self-help. The number of glider pilots at the time was quite small, almost few enough for most members to know each other. It was a time of slow but solid growth with the real expansion taking place in the nineteen sixties and seventies.
The GFA followed the national precedent of a three-tier system of administration in the form of gliding-clubs, state associations and the national Council comprised of representatives from each state plus an elected executive. This structure has served us well up until the late 90's where it became apparent that the Council was becoming cumbersome, too large to be effective and met too seldom to be of any real value. The Management structure was therefore changed to a smaller Board meeting more often and having more bias on matters of policy whilst the Executive concerned itself with implementation of that policy through the officers and Secretariat. The manner in which it works depends largely on the calibre of the people holding the various offices at any given time.
A strong emphasis was placed on training in the 60's to 90's and whilst this is still a core function, the attention is now equally on membership retention and skill advancement.
The GFA Instructor's Handbook was devised and circulated around the clubs setting the standard for vastly improved procedures in training and safety. The Manual of Standard Procedures [MoSP] was also prepared clearly stating the rules and requirements of the GFA system by which the members were bound. It is worth noting that the aviation authorities required all pilots wishing to fly gliders in Australia to abide by the rules and regulations of the GFA, a requirement which, although occasionally and unsuccessfully challenged, has stood the test of time.
Self-regulation had its own responsibilities in the airworthiness field as well as in operations. The GFA established a system of glider inspectors who were duly authorised to carry out daily inspections and, at a more advanced level, approval of Certificates of Airworthiness. As the officers of the GFA became more experienced, the Department gradually increased the delegations until the entire airworthiness field was covered including first of type inspections and approvals. This was a unique situation in Australia. It should be noted with some pride in the achievement that these procedures were established by entirely honorary effort and implemented and maintained around Australia in the clubs by volunteers.
On the sporting side, as soon as there were a sufficient number of Competitive aircraft in the country, championships began to be organised. The first National championships was held at Tocumwal in 1957 and soon became an annual event with the states eventually running their own state based competitions. Australia regularly sent competitors to World Championships beginning in 1952 when our representatives were Mervyn Waghorn and Fred Hoinville.
With Australian gliding growing in stature it was decided to offer for the World Championships in Australia and the GFA bid was accepted by the CIVV, the governing world body. The first World Championships held at Waikerie in 1974 gave gliding a tremendous shot the arm. GFA membership at that time stood at 3775 and following the championships and the attendant publicity, the membership grew to a high of 5100 by 1977. The boom in the Australian economy at the time could also have been a factor.
Added to this then was what has been called "the fiberglass revolution", which began with the introduction of the first fiber-reinforced plastic glider in 1968, the Open Libelle, and the following rapid importation of numbers of high performance single seaters at a time when the exchange rate was favorable and the prices, by to-days standards, comparatively cheap. Numbers of top-class machines remained in the country after the '74 World Championships swelling the fleet and creating a boom in interest in cross-country and performance flying.
The administration of the GFA inevitably expanded during this period. A Secretariat was established at Essendon Airport, the Secretary becoming full-time and eventually the Airworthiness Officer and a National Coach were employed full-time as the work-load increased beyond the capacity of honorary officials.
The legal structure of the GFA also came up for radical alteration. The original GFA agreement, a loose arrangement between the national body and the state associations, was not seen to be adequate to protect GFA officers against possible litigation and there were other reasons to recommend formal incorporation. Therefore following extensive consultation between the GFA and the states, the Memorandum and Articles of Association were agreed in October 1980 and the GFA became a Company Limited by Guarantee under the Companies Ordinance of the ACT.
The success of the first World Championships encouraged the GFA to bid once more and Benalla was chosen as the next site where another well-organised event was held in 1987 preceded by an "Austraglide" international competition in both 1984 and 1986. Mention should be made of the achievements of Ingo Renner, four times world gliding Champion, and Brad Edwards who also became world champion in 1991.
Sports Class (handicapped) competitions had long been promoted by the GFA and in the mid nineteen nineties the GFA Executive resolved that the GFA would make a concerted effort to have Sports Class recognised as a World Championship event and to bid for Australia to host the first World Championship in Sports Class. (Now known as Club Class.) The GFA was successful in that endeavor and the first World Gliding Championship, Club Class was successfully conducted at Gawler Australia in January 2000.
A feature of the decade of the nineties was continued rapidly improving computers and communications. The GFA developed its own web page which became fundamental in communicating information. Email became the primary means of communication. Membership and database management became centralised at the GFA Secretariat.
In 1995 the Minister for Transport and Regional Development announced a comprehensive review of all Aviation Regulations involving the Regulator (CASA) and industry. Whilst the GFA and other Sport Aviation Organisations welcomed the review in principle, not many could have anticipated the disruptive nature of the review and the uncertainties it invoked. However, after 9 years of costly negotiation, following the further intervention of the Minister for Transport and Regional Development, a set of principles was finally agreed which would allow the continuation of our direct involvement in the regulation of our sport which is considered essential to the world benchmark safety outcomes achieved. These principles are currently being encoded into our regulations and we look forward to the completion of this project in the near future. During all this time through the huge efforts of a number of individuals, with the wholehearted support of the membership, the GFA continues to function with its areas of responsibility undiminished.
Achieving a balance between the needs of performance and competition oriented members, both club-based and as individuals, as compared with the members who enjoy gliding without the desire to compete is still very much on the mind of GFA officials. To this end a third department dedicated to the development of the sporting aspects both competition and cross country advancement was spawn in the late 1980's and continues to devise new ways to further members achievements and enjoyment.
In the early millennium a forth department was created to address the slow decline in membership numbers which through a range of factors was besetting the sport as it was is all other countries. This department "Marketing and development" is concentrating on membership retention initially and is assisting clubs provide the infrastructure and services that make the sport attractive and enjoyable so that club members can realise their expectations form the sport in what is now a time sensitive pursuit.
The principles which originally motivated those who founded the GFA still remain. The pursuit of high standards in flying training and competitive excellence are the main goals with the additional aim of ensuring that the GFA retains its independence and authority to regulate itself along the lines agreed and traditionally expected by it's membership.