Fragmentation reigns in Europe’s regs

 - September 20, 2006, 11:54 AM

German executive charter firm Triple Alpha Luftfahrt has added a sixth Cessna CitationJet to its fleet. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be particularly big news, but the company’s experience in trying to get the aircraft registered provides a fascinating insight into how fragmented and inconsistent Europe’s aviation regulatory environment still is in practice–despite long-standing efforts to introduce regulatory harmonization.

Triple Alpha wanted to register the CJ in France, base it at Paris Le Bourget Airport and use it largely for charter flights in both France and Germany. Under Europe’s existing JAR-OPS 1 commercial operating rules this should be perfectly straightforward and in keeping with the European Union’s single-market principles.

But when Triple Alpha managing director Hans Pfeiffer informed German civil aviation authority Luftfahrt Bundesamt (LBA) of his intentions–expecting this to be a mere formality–the answer was a firm nein. LBA officials told him that they couldn’t give approval for a French-registered aircraft to operate in Germany.

Pfeiffer respectfully told the officials that they had no power to refuse since all member states of the Joint Aviation Authorities have long accepted common JAR-OPS 1 operating rules. He approached the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to arbitrate the dispute, but the organization (which happens to be headquartered in Germany) pointed out that it cannot intervene because it does not yet have responsibility for operational rules.

What followed were months of complex negotiations and bureaucracy, involving costly translations of documents between French and German. Essentially, Triple Alpha needed to persuade France’s Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC) to delegate its authority over an F-registered aircraft to the LBA so that the German bureaucrats could rest assured that the CJ was effectively one of their own D-registered aircraft–despite the fact that it sported the tail number F-HAOA.

Making the task more difficult and costly was the need to have all documentation translated between French and German because neither set of officials was comfortable dealing in English, the de facto working language of European aviation.

This proved to be a complex task because, according to Pfeiffer, Europe’s national agencies still adhere to significantly different administrative and regulatory procedures. In his experience, bureaucratic nationalism is still very much alive–almost a decade after Europe’s JAR-OPS 1 process was adopted (albeit on an essentially voluntary basis since the Joint Aviation Authorities have no binding legal authority over their member states).

In theory the situation should improve beginning in 2008, when the EASA is due to assume responsibility for operational requirements. The agency is backed by the full force of European Union law, meaning that national governments have to adopt and enforce its directives and requirements uniformly and in full.

Cross-border Businesses

So if Pfeiffer had known how much aggravation he faced, would he simply have settled for keeping his new aircraft on the German register? “No, I would do it all again,” he told AIN. The 36-year-old is adamant that cross-border business dealings such as this are his right as a European citizen and that this right should not be thwarted by what he regards as the obstinate parochialism of national officials. Triple Alpha’s call sign is Carolus–the Latin name for Emperor Charlemagne, the first (and arguably the last) ever pan-European ruler.

In fact, aircraft from one EU state routinely offer charter capacity in other EU states while remaining on their own country’s register. But Pfeiffer felt that to be accepted by French clients in the Paris-based market it would be better to register the aircraft in France.

Triple Alpha leases its six jets from their owners, rather than operating them under standard management contracts. They do not fly for the owners and so the aircraft are fully available for third-party charter. The leases are open-ended and can be terminated by either the operator or the owner with six months’ notice.

Dusseldorf-based Triple Alpha is due to take delivery of its sixth CJ on May 1. Despite Europe’s generally sluggish economy, Pfeiffer said that charter demand has been increasing steadily since the firm started using the Avinode online charter booking system, which allows operators to offer real-time availability to customers and brokers.

Pfeiffer said that he stuck with the Citation because its five-seat cabin makes it a comfortable option for the typical charter load of just one or two passengers. The aircraft’s 1,150-nm range means it can fly to almost anywhere in Europe or North Africa and it needs no more than 4,100 feet of runway.

Triple Alpha is now laying plans to base aircraft in the London area, Russia and the fast-emerging markets of Eastern Europe. It currently carries about 6,000 passengers per year. Pfeiffer isn’t yet convinced that the new-generation very light jets will revolutionize the air-taxi market, as their makers predict. In his view, the cabin of aircraft such as the Eclipse 500 will be considered too small for amply sized German executives.