Easing into EASA: transition from JAA could extend to 2008

 - January 21, 2008, 10:43 AM

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will start assuming its responsibilities in September, though it may well take at least until 2008 for it to complete the process of replacing the existing Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). According to Michael Smethers, deputy chairman of the newly appointed management board, the agency is committed to avoiding duplication in rulemaking and charging, but he admitted to AIN that this cannot be assured in the early years of the transition, when the EASA and JAA will continue to work in tandem, along with the national aviation authorities of their member states.

Seven months after it was legally established in September, and five months before its jurisdiction takes effect, EASA still does not have an executive director due to a standoff between the management board and the European Commission. According to General Aviation Manufacturers and Traders Association (GAMTA) officials, it is now anticipated that the post will be advertised again after the two sides were unable to agree on any of the initial candidates.

According to Smethers, another hostage to political squabbling is the decision over where to locate EASA’s permanent headquarters. The new agency will start life at a temporary home in Brussels, Belgium, but is widely expected to relocate to Cologne, Germany.

In its first phase of operations, EASA will be responsible for rulemaking on aircraft design, production and maintenance. It will also standardize the application of rules by national aviation authorities and will issue environmental certificates for which other bodies (such as the EC’s environmental directorate and the International Civil Aviation Organization) will make rules.

In September the EC is expected to present proposals for framework regulations covering aircraft operators and its personnel, but EASA is not expected to take on this responsibility until early 2006. Eventually the EC is expected to extend EASA’s authority to airports and air traffic management by 2008, by which time the JAA’s role should have essentially withered away.

By contrast, there is no expectation that the national aviation authorities themselves will wither away, although their role will be changing. Smethers dismissed the common assumption that these agencies will become no more than regional branch offices of EASA, simply implementing and enforcing its rules. For instance, individual aircraft type certificates will still be issued by the national aviation authorities, although–in theory–their habit of imposing national variations in certification requirements will be curtailed.

In its rulemaking procedures, EASA will largely draw on the experience of the national authorities, which will themselves be the main source of the new agency’s technical staff. EASA has formed an advisory board of interested parties, including four representatives of GA, one from GAMTA and one from the European Business Aviation Association. “We will have an appeals process [for rulemaking] and there will be full consultation on fees,” Smethers promised.

Significantly, EASA’s rules carry the weight of European Union (EU) law. By contrast, the JAA essentially works on a “gentlemen’s agreement” that member states will honor and enforce its commonly agreed regulations. National agencies have been widely accused of paying lip service to this commitment at the expense of aircraft manufacturers and operators who have faced a raft of conflicting rules and requirements.

One complication of the new EASA set-up is that not all 40 JAA states are members of the 15-nation EU. This means that nonmember countries’ aviation agencies will be able to participate in the new body only through bilateral agreements between their national governments and the EU, and may not, therefore, pay full membership dues and have full voting rights. The situation will be partially alleviated next year when 10 more existing JAA member states (eight former Eastern Bloc nations, as well as Malta and Cyprus) are due to join the EU.

Importantly, EASA’s rulemaking process will be directly funded from member-state contributions. National aviation authorities will still charge for issuing type certificates and providing other direct services.

Smethers admitted that the creation of EASA had been fraught with legal and political difficulties for the EU, which still does not have a federal structure of government comparable to the U.S. Seemingly damning the new body with faint praise, he concluded that its rule-making process would at least “be no worse” than that of the JAA’s, while quickly adding that the ultimate goal is for EASA to have the same status worldwide as the FAA.