Paris Air Show

Despite EU setbacks, EASA flies forward

 - December 15, 2006, 5:20 AM

The categorical rejection of the new European Union constitution by French and Dutch voters has rocked the EU to its core, casting doubt on the sustainability of governmental structures for the expanding community. But on the banks of the Rhine in the German city of Cologne, one new European institution is already showing that it can make a meaningful difference in the way the air transport industry is governed.

The headquarters of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is a new tower block, which is still under construction even as the new agency has started work on the lower floors. These circumstances are aptly symbolic of EASA’s ambitions to take on a rising portfolio of regulatory responsibilities.

It is already handling airworthiness certification, as well as maintenance and manufacturer organization approvals. Now it intends to assume responsibility from national aviation authorities (NAAs) for regulating aircraft operations and flight crew licensing.

According to EASA director general Patrick Goudou, the EU legislative process for making this transition should be under way by July. “We expect the process to be complete by the end of 2006 or early 2007, but to save time we have already started work to prepare for these new responsibilities,” he told Aviation International News in an interview prior to this week’s Paris Air Show.

Greater responsibility will mean higher costs and staffing requirements for EASA. The agency has already requested additional resources from the European Parliament’s 2007 budget, but the amounts sought will not in fact meet the full cost of taking control of operational regulations and pilot licensing.

What is still being debated is the precise role that NAAs will play in future and the extent to which they can implement and administer rules on EASA’s behalf without undermining its authority. “We don’t yet know how the work share [between EASA and the NAAs] will be organized,” Goudou acknowledged. “But I can’t imagine, for example, that EASA we will be issuing individual pilot licenses,” implying that this administrative task will be handled at a national level.

Generally speaking, the aviation industry has welcomed the creation of EASA in the belief that this will at last result in the long-desired level playing field with consistent regulations and requirements rather than a morass of national standards that result in costly duplication of effort for manufacturers and operators alike. But there has been concern that as EASA takes over certification and regulatory tasks from the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), it will end up redoing much of the work that has already been done to establish what have been essentially voluntary common standards.

Goudou was adamant that there will be a high degree of continuity as EASA starts regulating aircraft operations. “I think we have already proved this with the aircraft certification work. We have taken on the majority of the JARs [Joint Airworthiness Requirements], changing as little as possible.”

The JAAs have already introduced JAR OPS 1 rules covering commercial aircraft operations and EASA will now simply enforce this under EU law through an implementing rule. JAA directives, while being written jointly by the participating NAAs, are not legally binding in member states and this has resulted in NAAs imposing their own self-serving variations at the expense of the industry.

So can the industry now rest assured that the so-called national variations are a thing of the past? “This is finished. It really is. Now there is only one type certificate issued for each aircraft in Europe and it is valid everywhere,” Goudou insisted, before acknowledging that “there are still some issues with one or two member states and we are trying to solve these issues quickly.” For instance, the notoriously controlling and pedantic UK Civil Aviation Authority is still clinging to some of its variants in place and EASA has asked the European Commission (EC) to rule on this.

Generally, all EASA type certificates are accepted by non-EU states. In fact, Norway and Iceland are expected to join EASA later this year, with Switzerland due to follow in 2006.

EASA is assisting the EC in its bilateral negotiations with non-EU states but is not legally entitled to negotiate directly with governments. Nonetheless, the new agency can sign working agreements with NAAs to help with certification efforts and it already has working arrangements with Canada, Brazil, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Israel and China even though this does not yet amount to full mutual recognition of type certificates.

Next on EASA’s agenda is the oversight of airports and air traffic control. “Yes, this should be part of our responsibility because it is logical to address safety as a whole,” explained Goudou. EC has asked EASA to start work on expanding its role in these directions and more “more detailed requests” are expected in near future.

Once EASA has become Europe’s supreme authority for aircraft operations, it may subsequently acquire a mandate for aviation security as well. Goudou said that it has not yet been tasked with this but acknowledged that there is a logical connection between security and operational regulations.

EASA is involved in environmental issues only as they relate directly to the certification of aircraft and engines. In this respect, it is driven by existing requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Annex 16 standards. However, it remains unclear how EASA will respond to the EC’s declared unilateral intention to go further than ICAO’s most recent watered-down compromise on reducing noise and emissions. Goudou would say only that EASA’s remit on environmental standards does not extend into what might be considered market considerations.

By the end of this year, EASA will have a 200-strong staff at the Cologne headquarters. Subject to European Parliament budget approval, this should rise to 328 in 2006. The agency is recruiting technical experts from throughout with applications coming from throughout Europe. Goudou said that although most new staffers are being drawn from the NAAs, EASA is recruiting from aerospace firms as well.

But surely by hiring experts away from the NAAs, EASA is undermining their ability to implement rules and standards at a national level. Goudou said that this is not the case, because, “At the same time, EASA is taking over tasks from NAAs. So we take people from them but we are also taking over tasks. This is an organic shift.”

Although the eventual role of the NAAs has yet to be finalized, they are already sharing airworthiness and production approval tasks with EASA officials. For example, certification of Grob’s new SPn Utility jet has effectively been subcontracted by EASA to the German NAA (called LBA), but the type certificate will be issued in EASA’s name and ultimately under its authority.

“In future, the sharing of tasks will be based on what is most efficient, like, for example, issuing individual pilot license at a national level [rather than from Cologne],” stated the EASA executive director. “We are not taking over the NAAs, but they are losing rule-making authority. EASA will set the rules and procedures and the NAAs will enforce these European rules implemented by national authorities. Our ultimate goal is to achieve a level playing field.

“The dialogue with the NAAs is ongoing and we have been discussing contracts and outsourcing since September 2003,” Goudou added. “We do try to have the best relations with NAAs, but these relations are changing with the contractual arrangements we are putting in place. They are partners and not competitors. We are two parts of the same system.”

No one in the industry doubts EASA’s ambition and its commitment. But can it really pull off this historic shift in regulatory roles? And isn’t there a danger that the industry and aviation consumers will end up paying more to have rules drawn up in Cologne and then implemented from their national capitals?

“We have a firm business plan and we have the clear support of the EC and the Parliament. I can’t imagine that the Parliament wouldn’t give us the necessary resources,” insisted Goudou. “Taxpayers will pay once and not twice. We have put in place good governance, with strict and transparent procedures, after holding numerous meetings with the industry and all stakeholders.”

But some stakeholders are not happy. French manufacturers, for example, have not previously had to pay for the type certification process and some operators are concerned that there may be duplicated charges for inspections conducted by NAAs under the auspices of EASA.

On June 1, a new tariff of fees and charges came into effect. Goudou acknowledged the controversy that this has provoked and predicted that it might yet be changed to meet some industry concerns. However, he pointed out that it is ultimately the European Parliament’s decision that the industry should pay directly for being regulated, while adding that it had specifically required that any charges be levied just once.

So is EASA really Europe’s answer to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration? “It is not useful to make this comparison because the political structure of Europe is not federal. There are 25 independent states,” concluded Goudou.