UK to decide soon on foreign aircraft limits

 - October 25, 2006, 6:37 AM

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) is expected to decide early next year whether it will forge ahead with plans to restrict the amount of time foreign-registered aircraft can be based in Britain. The consultation process ended on October 28, and officials will take several weeks to evaluate the views collected before making a recommendation.

The DfT’s draft proposal published as part of the consultation process effectively limits to 90 days in any 12-month period the amount of time foreign-registered aircraft can be based in the UK. This requirement would not apply to aircraft registered in member states of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) or to aircraft operated under public transport licenses.

According to UK officials, between 500 and 1,500 foreign-registered aircraft spend most of the time based in Britain. This equates to between 11 and 21 percent of the private aircraft, with turbine-powered business aircraft believed to be at the high end of this spectrum.

The DfT has acknowledged that many of the foreign-registered aircraft concerned are on the registers of the U.S., Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. While conceding that it considers these registers to be “well regulated,” the department has expressed concerns about “significant differences” between UK requirements and those of these popular “offshore” registers. It is more concerned about aircraft registered outside these states, arguing that it is hard to be sure that such states are taking adequate steps to ensure that operators meet accepted technical standards.

Business Aviation Responds

The DfT proposal also assessed the costs of switching an aircraft to the UK register. These would include aircraft registration at up to £100 ($175), a certificate of airworthiness at £651 ($1,140 for an aircraft weighing 6,000 pounds; no estimates for larger equipment are provided) and pilot licenses/ratings for privately operated aircraft flown in IFR conditions at £249 ($435). The DfT estimates the total cost of the switch to the UK register for all the aircraft concerned to be up to £250,000 ($438,000).

However, these cost estimates do not take into account any additional technical requirements that might have to be met through expensive equipment modifications to aircraft. They also do not assess possible crew retraining expenses.

The DfT has not yet made public the industry responses to the proposals. However, the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) has already made clear its firm opposition to any move to force UK-based aircraft onto the British registry.

The group accuses the UK authorities of giving aircraft operators every incentive to avoid the UK register due to its “dogmatic” approach to certification requirements that have resulted in costs that are out of proportion to the value of the aircraft. Since the EASA took over responsibility for type certification of aircraft registered in Europe, the UK Civil Aviation Authority has had to drop its widely resented additional technical requirements.

BBGA has also argued that the UK should not initiate a unilateral change to the rules governing foreign-registered aircraft operating in its territory, because the EASA is  undertaking a similar review covering all of Europe.

The group has also alleged that the European instrument rating is too inflexible for private pilots to maintain. Many of these pilots instead opt for the U.S. instrument rating and, alleges BBGA, if the UK authorities don’t accept FAA standards as being safe they are implying that all U.S. airline pilots are not adequately qualified.

Other groups involved in the consultation process included the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the British Helicopter Advisory Board and the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.