Europe ready to expand EASA’s regulatory role

 - October 30, 2006, 7:44 AM

The European Commission (EC) is moving quickly to extend the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to cover pilot licensing, aircraft operations and oversight of third-country airlines. In legislative proposals published on November 15, the EC’s transport directorate also wants the three-year-old agency to take on supervision of all air safety legislation, as well as oversight duties over airports and air traffic management.

The Commission wants this ambitious transition to be complete by 2010. It is pushing for the council of EU transport ministers to approve the move at a December 5 meeting.

At the same meeting, the transport directorate also hopes to get approval for a rule banning airlines found to be unsafe from operating within the airspace of the EU’s 25 member states. The carriers will appear on a blacklist to warn travelers of their status.

Under the timetable envisioned by the EC, the transition of the responsibilities still held by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) to the EASA would take effect in early 2007. Oversight of airports and ATC would likely follow in 2009 and 2010.

Ready for the Responsibility?

The important expansion of the EASA’s role will likely concern some in the air transport industry and national aviation authorities who have questioned whether the new agency is ready to take on the extended responsibility. Critics, while broadly supporting the EASA in principle, have argued that the agency is under-resourced and does not have a sound business plan for expanding its workload.

In fact, the EASA has grown quickly and by the end of this year will have 200 employees at its headquarters in Cologne, Germany. Assuming the council approves the extension of its role, the agency is expected almost to double its personnel to 350 next year. This figure is still less than the number of employees at many larger national aviation authorities.

An EASA spokesman acknowledged criticism from parties such as the leadership of the UK Civil Aviation Authority. “But it is beginning to subside as knowledge of the new system and the cooperation between the agency and the NAAs becomes more widespread,” he told AIN.

In a keynote speech to Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society on October 18, EASA executive director Patrick Goudou emphasized that there is no question of the EASA’s totally replacing the national aviation authorities once the JAAs (a voluntary body whose rulings are not binding in EU law) are disbanded.

“The agency and the national authorities are two pillars of a new regulatory system and there is a clear division of labor between the agency and its new partners in the member states,” he explained. “Only those tasks that are better executed in a central body are transferred to the agency. All other tasks remain with the national authorities. In practice this means that rules are drawn up and monitored by the agency, with the implementation of the rules carried out at the national level.”

Goudou also addressed criticism of the EASA’s newly adopted charging formula for its certification and licensing services. “In general I believe our charging system to be fair and balanced,” he said. “However, we have found that the stringent accounting rules of the European institutions that we have been obliged to use are not fully suited to our certification activities. It is true, we have been criticized for delays and administrative problems, but I can assure you we are dealing with the issue. New methods are being discussed, and as new staff arrive every day, applications are being processed more rapidly.”

Since its 2002 inception, the EASA has issued 20,000 certificates. It has also standardized the inspection process among its member states and concluded reciprocal working arrangements with Brazil, Canada, China, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Israel and the U.S.