EBACE Convention News

EBAA chief outlines issues facing European operators

 - May 4, 2007, 11:50 AM

The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) has never had more work on its plate and the industry has never had a greater need for the group’s lobbying efforts on its behalf. This was the headline message from EBAA chief executive Brian Humphries as the 2007 European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) prepared to open.

“I don’t think I have ever known such a busy period for the association,” Humphries told EBACE Convention News. “We have key issues on five fronts and they are all happening at the same time and need attention: the environment, security, Eurocontrol’s Single European Sky implementation, EASA [the European Aviation Safety Agency] and access to airports. We’ve never been busier.”

EBAA membership has continued to grow and tops 270 companies–almost 25 percent growth over the 2006 total of 220 members. The Brussels-based group represents a European business aviation fleet that numbers some 2,850 aircraft–with more than 800 having arrived on the continent since EBACE made its debut in 2001.

Revenues from the highly successful annual EBACE event have greatly strengthened the ability of EBAA to represent its members’ interests on the numerous regulatory issues that confront it through the European Commission (EC), EASA and Eurocontrol, as well as in dealings with foreign regulators, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation. The association is in the process of adding two more technical experts to its team to help represent it on the numerous committees and working groups that are placing increasing demand on its time and resources.

At the same time, Humphries and the EBAA board have decided the time is right to recruit a full-time chief executive. Humphries, who was formerly chairman of the association, took the job on a part-time basis in 2004 when he retired as managing director of the flight department operated by oil company Shell Aviation. In practice he has been working full-time–albeit partly from his home in the UK–and feels that EBAA needs a chief executive permanently based at its headquarters. “We want to find someone with charisma and the right expertise,” Humphries explained, adding that the association would like to fill the position by the summer.

“In March the annual general meeting [of EBAA] appointed me as president. This [part-time] person advises and steers, and this will ensure good continuity. We can afford to do this now,” Humphries said. “Back in 1995 we had a deficit budget and we had to spend reserves to keep going. Now, thanks to membership growth and EBACE, we are comfortably placed. We are a not-for-profit organization, so the only reason we have money is to put it back in for the members’ benefit. In fact, we would be irresponsible if we didn’t add staff to address growing member needs.”

In fact, EBAA is currently receiving membership applications at a rate of as much as two to three each week. Often the new members come to EBAA’s door because they face a specific problem. Increasingly, the association is responding to these problems by sending taskforces consisting of board members and staff experts to respond specifically to those issues–as is the case with current access issues at Torrejon Airport in Spain.

Last month, EBACE Convention News spent a morning with Humphries to get a better understanding of the key tasks being dealt with by EBAA. Many of these topics are featured in the EBACE conference agenda this week, giving members the chance to hear the latest developments on issues that impact both day-to-day business aviation operations and the whole future of the industry in Europe.

ENVIRONMENT

Earlier this year, the European Commission suddenly declared its intention to include much smaller business aircraft in its proposed emissions trading scheme–with a 5.7 [metric] ton threshold instead of the expected 20 tons. Was this a shock for EBAA? How have you responded to it?

We had been working hard with the Commission and we had even seen a draft of the proposals that mentioned 20 tons as the limit. It came as quite a shock when suddenly it was only 5.7 tons and this was a decision that apparently was made in the last two weeks before the draft was published.

I need to be clear about where we stand on this. We understand the benefits of emissions trading and we in the business aviation industry want to play our part in sustainability. To this end we have one of the cleanest, youngest fleets in the industry–the average age is eight years old.

We have been working with Eurocontrol to develop its Pagoda model better to represent business aviation. With terrific support from Eurocontrol, Pagoda has been tailored specifically to determine business aviation’s contribution to emissions. In terms of intra-European Union traffic, we are 5 percent of the traffic, but only 0.5 percent of the emissions. We are a very small contributor. And that’s aviation emissions, so if you then look at overall emissions, we are a few hundredths of one percent.

We also have to recognize that we [European business aviation] are comprised almost entirely of small- and medium-size companies with just one or two aircraft each. They don’t know where or when they are going to fly and so it will be very difficult to engage in forward emissions trading. Most of our members would have to pay someone to do this and buy [emissions allowances] on the spot market without much buying power. The practicalities would make it very difficult to administer. That’s why we don’t believe that the 5.7 tons, which will encompass most of our members, would be correct. We believe it should be something around 20 tons or 20 passengers. We have gone back to Eurocontrol and with their support Pagoda will be rerun to show the difference in carbon captured at 5.7 tons and at 20 tons. We believe this will demonstrate that for this huge increase in administration you are going to capture 0.1 percent more carbon, or some very low figure.

We are not looking for exemption. We are actively exploring carbon offset on a voluntary basis and people [in business aviation] could start applying these right away [before emissions trading becomes mandatory in 2011]. This could follow the BBGA [British Business and General Aviation Association] initiative by using specialists like The Carbon Neutral Company.

Another option would be to talk to the oil companies about buying pre-traded fuel [that is, with carbon emissions trading reflected in retail price]. Alternatively, EBAA or an agency could act as some sort of clearinghouse for emissions trading–buying forward carbon based on industry estimates for EBAA members to buy when they need them.

Would it be feasible to just apply emissions trading to the larger business aviation operators, such as larger fractional ownership and charter firms?

The problem is where do you put the cut off? Who is big enough and who is too small? For ground-based emissions trading covering power stations there is a cut-off at 20 megawatts, which is about comparable to an Airbus 319 flying every day of the year. We need a sensible formula like this. So in addition to a bottom weight cut off for those that should be exempt, there should also be a threshold for inclusion based on actual CO2 emissions (direct impact) rather than passengers carried, which matters not at all to the environment!

SECURITY

Is Europe making any progress in introducing effective and consistent security measures covering business aviation, that is, through the revision of the EC2320 legislation that was passed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

EC2320 is being redrafted from a mixture of framework legislation and implementing rules. It is now being made purely framework legislation. It will require some sort of security provision and we agree with this. How to do it will not be in the public domain [so that terrorists don’t know what the exact measures are].

We have been working with the Commission and we have put in several draft proposals. Our philosophy is that we are completely different from the airlines. Our passenger base is measured in thousands and not millions. We go to hundreds of airports, not just a few main airports. We select our passengers, we are whole-plane charter and we do not sell individual seats. Most of our passengers are known individuals who have flown with us a long time.

Within most business aircraft you have access to the baggage compartment and essential emergency safety equipment. So we are a different scenario. Our security begins at the cabin door, not the cockpit door. We have a different approach.

Because of the relatively low number of movements and the number of places we fly to, airline standards of security won’t work. They would be inappropriate and would hobble the business. We say that we don’t mind having a screening capability, but just as you don’t need a heavy-goods vehicle license to drive a car, we shouldn’t have to have externally trained full-time security people doing low-frequency security screening. Rather, we need adapted and proportionate screening rules, with those people we don’t know undergoing screening by people who would also have other roles–might be baggage handlers or dispatchers and so on. They would be trained and certified by the company to a standard that external bodies can look at.

For those passengers that we do know–by a defined methodology–we suggest that screening should be waived. Normally this would be the FBO’s responsibility, but it would be the operator’s responsibility to make sure the security is available. Ultimately this is part of the captain’s responsibility. The captain is responsible for safety, and security is clearly part of safety. It’s his life. The operator needs to ensure that provision has been made for security.

The cost of basic security screening equipment is relatively affordable. What is not affordable is to have male and female screeners available 18 hours a day to be used once a day.

For helicopters, a totally different approach is required. First of all, their kinetic energy is extremely small. Even if you took a typical helicopter and dived vertically, at 200 knots the blades would come off.

Also, it is almost impossible to hijack a helicopter. The pilot can just bang the lever up and down and the hijacker will be on his knees. And if you switch the autopilot off, the helicopter will crash. Even if they shoot the pilot, this won’t do them any good. Helicopters can always land immediately, even on water–even in central London you can land on the Thames. The combination of it being a poor choice for hijackers and its low kinetic energy means that it is very difficult to hijack a helicopter. So, we don’t believe it warrants screening. The risk is lower and the preventability is better.

SINGLE EUROPEAN SKY

What is the latest on the implementation of Eurocontrol’s Single European Sky program? Are you satisfied that business aviation will be adequately accommodated in Europe’s future air traffic management structure?

We are getting to the crunch [in the SES implementation process] and we are worried that some people are trying to finalize the design without taking into account everyone’s interests.

We are particularly worried that the airlines do not want EGNOS or satellite-based augmentation systems. These are absolutely essential if we are to be able to use the smaller airfields and operate to heliports in all weather. For instance, we are proposing solutions that would allow a business jet to operate into a busy airport without the normal separation because instead of flying a three-degree glideslope it could fly a five-degree glideslope using satellite-based systems. It is still a controlled approach and it can land halfway down the runway and miss the wake vortex altogether.

We have innovative ideas, but we are not sure some in the industry are receptive to them and this worries us. EGNOS and sat-based augmentation are absolutely the way forward. This unlocks access to all sorts of small airports that we can’t use at the moment. With EGNOS you can fly a Cat 1 approach almost anywhere and if you have enhanced vision systems you can fly a Cat 2 approach. It is incredible capability, but the airlines don’t want to pay for it because they won’t be using it.

We have a little bit of a battle here and we are concerned about it. Also, the airlines would like to fix all the slots years ahead of time, but we can’t do this. We are flexible and we need to be that way. The new system must take into account this need for flexibility.

EASA

How satisfied are you with EBAA’s working relationship with EASA? Would you say that EASA is now on a surer footing as it prepares to extend its responsibilities?

I am very pleased with the dialog we have at EASA. We have representatives on several key committees and we are right where we need to be. On the rulemaking side, EASA is doing well. The top officials are open-minded and they recognize the need to avoid overregulation.

The problems with EASA are that it is still very inefficient and the fees and charges are too high. All the existing proposals have been binned. They wanted a flat-fee system that is extremely expensive. To give you an idea of the inefficiency, even with the [government and European Commission] sponsorship that EASA has, their flat fees would be higher than those of the [UK] CAA, which has to make a six-percent return on capital.

We are really worried about the fees and charges and this is why we are worried about EASA moving into operations and licensing. They have got to get their efficiency sorted out. They have got to start behaving less like a civil service body and more like a business. They have got to have transparency and realistic charges.

On the other hand, the [European Union] states must recognize that this is a new venture and that they have got to give it the initial support it needs. It is quite wrong for industry alone to have to support it through all its teething problems.

OPERATING RULES

What is the latest situation on the drafting of the new EU-OPS 2 (formerly JAR-OPS 2) operating rules for privately operated business aircraft?

This is what EASA refers to as complex, motor-powered aircraft operated noncommercially. We have the chair of this [EASA] subgroup. It is moving along and will be extended to include fractionals. We are optimistic that it will be performance-based and will call on industry codes of practice. They [the EASA subgroup] are working on the draft of this and what they are going to wrap it up in. They expect to finish the work in committee by the middle of the year.

The only real issues now are “what is registration?” “what is declaration?” and “what audit do you need?” Do you need any audit or should anyone be allowed to declare? This probably depends on what size operator you are.

Our view is that if you are in a quality-based system, you should not be subject to inspection. Your quality system should be subject to audit to ensure that it is operating well.

There is some argument about whether you can allow a company just to declare its compliance. We say that if you are operating and registered within IS-BAO [the International Standards–Business Aircraft Operations code of good practice established by the International Business Aviation Council], this standard will have been met. We feel the authorities should look at the IS-BAO auditors and the process, and then do some spot checks on some companies.

We are worried about this turning into a private AOC. We don’t think this is necessary. After all, the corporates have the best safety record–ten times better than the commercial operators.

You can get a safety culture in two ways: you can grow it internally or try to grind it in. With regulation, while some operators will be very good, you can guarantee only the lowest common denominator. With a safety culture, which tends to happen with corporates, people will rise to the best standards.

On fractional regulation, EASA is very clear that when a fractional aircraft is operated by the owner, it is noncommercial. By contrast, a jet card is not a fractional operation and it is never noncommercial, it is block charter.

What it comes down to is, “Who is the legal operator?” If the owner or fractional owner is the legal operator, even if he has crew and specialist advisors to help him, that is private. If the management company is the operator, that is commercial. This is the ultimate test. There is no scope for a single operator flip-flopping [between private and commercial]. It is who is the legal operator on any given day that determines the category of operation.

MARKET ACCESS

What is the latest situation on the long-running market access issues on both sides of the Atlantic? Since the U.S. authorities agreed to allow 12 charter flights by non-U.S. operators each year before they have to apply for a Part 129 certificate, is it now easier for foreign operators to fly into the U.S.?

In practice, it is not working very well. The U.S. authorities have allowed 12 [charter] flights per year and said that in theory you can get clearance in 48 hours. Unfortunately, when we try to do it we are thwarted by local people [that is, local officials] who say, “I don’t care what Washington says, this is the rule here.”

We are continuing to work with our NBAA colleagues on this. One of our members is acting as a guinea pig. We will report its experiences at EBACE. In practice, only a relatively few members want to do this. The ones who want to do it a lot have gone to Part 129. There is recognition that we have tried and that we have had some movement. But there is no question that we have more to do.

The playing field [in terms of market access] is at an angle of about 45 degrees and it sounds as if the latest U.S./EU deal [bilateral air transport rights] is going to make it even easier for U.S. operators to come over here. This is only the start. What we actually want is real open skies with free access on both sides.

AIRPORT ACCESS

To what extent is airport access still a problem for business aviation in Europe?

We are worried about the impact of low-cost carrier growth at airports. Take Torrejon, in Spain, for example. We were pushed out of Madrid’s Barajas Airport [because of airline growth] into the Torrejon air base, but the military doesn’t really want us. There is a technical problem. It’s a bit like [London] Northolt in that there is a runway clash when aircraft are on a southerly heading.

We have done some simulation work for Torrejon and have shown that we can have safe separation with all the aircraft operating there, with an IFR departure and a turn at 500 feet. We have assumed the worst-case scenario. We have given this to the authorities and are waiting to hear what they will do. We need positive support to operate at Torrejon, which we believe we should be able to do.

Even more serious is [London] Luton. Currently we operate 22 percent of the movements, but it has just become a slot-coordinated airport. Under EC slot rules, although business aviation gets a mention, it is only scheduled movements that can claim grandfather rights. We believe that with the changes that are taking place it can’t be right that a [segment] of traffic that has contributed to the airport’s growth for 20 years suddenly has no rights. Our argument is that [this segment] of traffic should have grandfather rights relative to its proportion of total traffic. European law needs to be changed on this and we are pushing for it.

We have the same problem at Geneva. The low-cost carriers are coming in and the airport says it has to give slots to the airlines under EU law. We have arranged a meeting with the Geneva authorities. We are worried about this and the slot legislation needs to change to recognize the rights we should have.

The interests of the airport are not always the same as those of the local community. The airport has to maximize profits. They have to make money from the shops, but that is not providing a service to the community.

The airports and airspace are community assets that should be available to all in the community. There is very good evidence that business aviation is good for the local, national and EU economy. We haven’t done a study on this for about five years, so we are about to get a consultant to look at this in terms of what business aviation means for jobs and value to communities. The last study we did was based on a total fleet of 2,000 [business aircraft], and now we have 2,800–seven percent of IFR traffic. This is a major contribution.