Europe should prosecute pilots flying illegal charter flights within its member states. That was just one of the suggestions coming out of an industry education session on the topic at EBACE 2012 today.
Might that help nip the widespread practice in the bud? After all, some statistics indicate as much as 35 percent of flights in Europe breach regulations (although the European Business Aviation Association puts that number at more like 12 percent). “The truth is nobody knows,” said session moderator Aoife O’Sullivan, partner at law firm Gates and Partners.
This statistical inconsistency is one of the many problems besetting the industry. For a mature market, Europe is constantly caught with its pants down when it comes to regulatory oversight. It is well over a year since the EBAA launched a campaign for operators, brokers and passengers to curtail illegal charter flight activity within its borders, but the initiative seems to have made little headway against widespread abuses.
Since then, actual numbers of illegal operators caught in the act have been extremely low. In the UK, for example, there were no prosecutions last year, despite the country being one of the three biggest users of private aviation in the EU.
There are several reasons why. First, it is virtually impossible to check which flights are operating commercially without a valid air operator’s certificate (AOC). More pertinently, European laws are so complex that many people do not even realize they are breaking the law. For example, swapping a hotel room for a seat on a flight would render the trip illegal in some states if it were operated under Part 91 regulations.
Even the regulators are confused. Maxime Coffin, of the France’s DGAC aviation authority, said, “We need to clarify the rules and market them more aggressively, so the jump is not so great between private and commercial flights.”
To that end, last year EBAA compiled a document called, “Is my flight legal?” that stipulates which activities fall within the realm of permissible flights in Europe.
Electronic brokerage Avinode marketplace managing director Oliver King suggested better data collection might help: “If we can integrate an electronic system with flight schedules, we’ll know when an illegal flight has been flown,” he said. Today, any aircraft on Avinode’s system must have a valid AOC before the software will display it.
Other suggestions from the panel and the floor included implementing more stringent rules for ramp checks. Any noncompliant aircraft would be grounded. If it were found to be operating illegally, its home authority might suspend or revoke the operator’s AOC. EASA Rulemaking Directorate air operations officer Willy Sigl said that rather than the burden of proof remaining with the authority, it should go to the operator.
So should that low-hour pilot sacrifice his or her license for a cheap flight for his customers? That was one seemingly extreme proposal here in Geneva yesterday, but maybe that’s what it would take to tip the balance in the favor of legal operators.