Business aviation gets on surer footing in Europe

 - December 18, 2006, 4:51 AM

After a long period of strained relations between the UK general aviation community and the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the two groups are working together constructively to push for the implementation of recommendations from the strategic and regulatory reviews that they jointly concluded in June.

For example, the CAA is trying to convince other government departments to change planning policy to recognize the need for GA aircraft to have adequate access to airports where capacity is increasingly squeezed by air transport growth. Similarly, the authority has told the Treasury that it should remove value-added tax on flight training since the sales tax is not applied to other forms of training in Britain.

Alex Plant of the CAA’s economic regulation group told a conference on the future of general aviation held in London on November 21 that when the review processes began in 2005, the agency’s relations with GA representatives were at a low point, with feelings running high against proposed changes in fees and charges. He said the strategic review had established that business aviation has driven much of the growth in Britain’s GA sector.

“The CAA has realized that GA delivers real economic and educational benefits,” Plant stated. “We now consider GA in a different light and can see that business aviation, in particular, facilitates other economic activity and so has bigger value than just the direct spending it generates.”

CAA chairman Sir Roy McNulty told the conference that the working relationship between the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) also is improving “after a bad patch last winter and spring.” At the time, Sir Roy was leading a vocal campaign to prevent EASA (of which he is a board member) from taking on new regulatory responsibilities before it has solved its funding problems and reformed its management structure.

Between 2008 and 2013, EASA is set to take on responsibility for aircraft operations, pilot licensing, airports and air traffic management. Agreement on the timetable for expanding the agency’s responsibilities was expected by the end of last year.

EASA Role Clarified
Sir Roy said that there is now a “better atmosphere” between EASA and NAA officials and greater clarity about the respective future roles of the authorities. “EASA’s responsibilities will increase, but the NAAs will still have an important role in the oversight of GA on a day-to-day basis,” he stated. Nonetheless, he warned the GA community that EASA will start levying many of the charges the group currently pays to the CAA.

Mike Smethers, director of the CAA’s European and international strategy division, told the conference that EASA has made “real progress” toward resolving the serious budget problems that almost brought it to a complete halt earlier this year. He said that the Cologne, Germany-based agency has also improved its management processes, placed more emphasis on partnership with NAAs and has been “more responsive to those paying for its services.”

Meanwhile, the European Commission has almost completed new proposals on the agency’s fees and charges. These need to be approved by the EASA management and advisory boards. Smethers said that final adoption of the new tariffs could be later than the anticipated deadline of this summer and that further changes could be made beyond then.

Mark Wilson, chief executive of the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) and who is set to chair the EASA’s advisory board of industry representatives, said that his organization supports the extension of the agency’s responsibilities because several important items of rulemaking are still “sitting on a shelf” having been partly developed by the now moribund Joint Aviation Authorities (which preceded EASA).

These new rules would include the planned EU-OPS 2 operating rules for non-commercial operations (replacing the planned JAR-OPS 2 rules that never made it onto the statute books). Wilson said that the GA lobby believes it has averted the prospect of a full aircraft operators certificate for this class of operations.

BBGA and other industry representatives are concerned that some NAAs are continuing to levy their own charges (in  addition to those of EASA), resulting in unbalanced competition among EU countries. “We are concerned that the total cost of certification will increase in Europe and that this will harm international competitiveness,” Wilson said.

One outcome of the review is the creation of a new General Aviation Strategic Forum to continue the dialog between government officials and the GA community. The forum is responsible for ensuring that the report’s recommendations are implemented. Meanwhile, the CAA and Department for Transport (DfT) now have a joint strategic working group for GA. Also, the existing General Aviation Consultative Committee will be expanded to include representatives from the Ministry of Defence to address issues such as civil access to military airfields.

Ann Godfrey, head of the DfT’s aviation airspace division, reported that the department is prioritizing the creation of a network of airfields available for GA use, with planning bodies to be obliged to consider this need in making decisions about land use. She also said that other government departments have been notified that they are now required to notify DfT if they are proposing to introduce any measures that might affect GA.

‘CAA Acts as Judge and Jury’
According to Roger Hopkinson, chairman of the GA Alliance, the UK parliamentary transport committee has endorsed the GA community’s belief that the CAA unfairly acts as “both judge and jury” in the way it deals with appeals by people who have lost aviation licenses. He said that the group will seek further dialog with the CAA board on this issue but ultimately is willing to take the matter to a full judicial review. However, the CAA’s Plant told conference delegates that the authority still does not accept that there is a conflict of interest in this area of its work.

One of the conclusions of the regulatory review was that the British GA community is at a competitive disadvantage compared with some European counterparts in having to fully meet regulatory costs through CAA regulatory charges. David Chapman, head of operating standards with the CAA safety regulation group, told the conference that there is no prospect of the UK government changing its long-held belief in the full cost recovery model (as opposed to paying for regulation from general taxation). However, he predicted that this part of the competitive playing field will get leveled because other European states are moving toward the same model.

CAA officials also confirmed that they are now in talks with the UK government about a possible change to the legal requirement that the authority makes a 6-percent return on investment each year. This could result in reductions in fees and charges.

Chapman said that the CAA is open to further devolution of regulatory tasks, such as renewal of airworthiness certificates, to allow GA groups to do this for themselves and so reduce costs. “We are certainly up for this if you are,” he told the conference. “But we need to be sure that the GA groups are actually capable and willing to take on these tasks, and we’re not yet sure that this is the case.”