Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


11 JANUARY 2006

  Q60  Chairman: How often have you done that in the last 10 years?

  Mr Bell: I could not give you the total but I could supply that information. On average it is two per year.

  Q61  Chairman: Are they big airlines?

  Mr Bell: Some of them have significant implications, yes. The number of options we have available to us when dealing with an airline which is not performing is quite varied. We can query the activity and the post holder could be replaced and restrictions could be placed on their operation.

  Chairman: Mr Bell, in the note you will give me you are going to explain how often you have done that in the last five years, not to be too cruel, and what types of imposition has come from you to the companies concerned.

  Q62  Mrs Ellman: Are you telling us that safety standards will not be compromised?

  Mr Bell: We have no intention of compromising safety standards and we work to the best of our ability to ensure that they are not compromised and I stand by our record.

  Sir Roy McNulty: Perhaps I might add a comment on the British Airways case that you raised. I think it is correct to say that we identified from our surveillance of BA a number of matters of concern before even the first of those incidents took place. We raised those with BA, I personally met with Rod Eddington to explain our concerns and action has been taken, which is very evident from their record in the last 12 to 18 months, and it has got a lot better. I do not like the light touch" phrase. I think we have put heavy reliance on the safety management systems that companies operate. We expect them to have a good safety management system and we check that they do and then we monitor how it is going. If we see that the system is not working as intended or if we see drop-offs, we raise that quite quickly from our surveillance, which we intend to keep. It is not light touch withdrawing, hands off or whatever. We get far more complaints from people that we are still too intrusive than we do from people who say we are not doing enough.

  Q63  Mrs Ellman: Has your work been affected by the Better Regulation Commission?

  Sir Roy McNulty: In some respects it has and in other respects there is quite a lot still to come. As you know, there are many initiatives that we are all going to benefit from over the next year or so arising from the Hampton Report, the Better Regulation Task Force and we are working together with the Department for Transport on a number of aspects of that. We had a major seminar with industry just before Christmas looking for their ideas and we will address all the relevant aspects of both of those reports. What we will try also to ensure is that none of that cuts across the obligations that we have stemming from ICAO or other requirements in due course from Europe or indeed that it cuts across the statutory duties we have. We can always improve. As I fully and freely admitted earlier, we are not perfect and if better regulation can be applied in the CAA we will do so.

  Q64  Mrs Ellman: How many Regulatory Impact Assessments have you produced?

  Sir Roy McNulty: I would need to research that but it is very many. It is our standard policy when there is a change in regulation to do a Regulatory Impact Assessment, but we can get a count down of that over the last several years and supply that to the Committee.

  Q65  Mrs Ellman: Are there any regulatory policies of the CAA which have not been covered by a Regulatory Impact Assessment?

  Sir Roy McNulty: I would need to research that. In the last three or four years it has been our universal habit to do Regulatory Impact Assessments but there are perhaps exceptions and one of those, for example, is economic regulation, where the whole process of consultation, debate and so on is so full that there is no need to do a special Regulatory Impact Assessment. At the end of it all, everybody understands perfectly well what is involved.

  Q66  Mrs Ellman: What changes have you made in response to the Hampton Report?

  Sir Roy McNulty: As yet none, but quite a number of the recommendations in the Hampton Report, for example risk-based regulation, are things that we already have in our policies and approach. As I said, in the last few months we have begun to review that ourselves, we are discussing it with the Department and I have no doubt that a full response and a full action plan will result of things that are relevant to us, but not all of it is.

  Q67  Graham Stringer: Can I just have one last bite at the BA cherry? What you seemed to be saying is that there was a problem at BA, you took action and now everything is as safe as it ever was at BA. You were also saying that there was a period when these incidents that were reported in the newspapers took place and passengers were at risk. What have you learned and how you will improve the performance so that you intervene before those passengers are at risk?

  Sir Roy McNulty: What we and BA learnt was that in the downsizing that they had to undertake post- 9/11, they perhaps went at it a bit too quickly and without adequate attention to the supervision of certain maintenance tasks. I think that is a lesson they have taken on board, it is a lesson we certainly have taken on board, and we will watch very carefully any similar situation in the future.

  Q68  Graham Stringer: That is slightly missing the point of my question.

  Sir Roy McNulty: My apologies.

  Q69  Graham Stringer: You are saying that something went wrong, you understand that now and you will keep an eye on it. What I am really trying to get at is how you intervene earlier when something is going wrong. Passengers were at risk because the intervention came later than it should have done, were they not?

  Sir Roy McNulty: I think the solution lies in perhaps having got into earlier dialogue with BA about exactly how they were going to implement the organisational changes that they did. Having said that, it was not so much the changes that they made that were wrong, it was in some aspects of the implementation of it that things did not work out as planned.

  Q70  Graham Stringer: Can you assure us that the low cost carriers who have incredibly quick turnaround times are not putting passengers at risk?

  Sir Roy McNulty: We are certainly satisfied with the safety regimes of the low cost carriers registered in this country whom we supervise.

  Q71  Chairman: That is not quite the same thing, is it? That is a rather careful use of the English language. You are saying you are satisfied with the safety regulations which the ones that are based in this country have put in place. Do you have any way of checking their safety regulations if they are based somewhere else, like in Ireland or Latvia?

  Sir Roy McNulty: The only way we have of checking is from the Safety of Foreign Aircraft process or from incidents that happen within this country, but we have limited reach in relation to airlines registered elsewhere. To come back to Mr Stringer's question, the safety surveillance that we exercise is exactly the same for low cost airlines as it is for traditional airlines. Our experience has been that the low cost airlines take safety very seriously and they take maintenance very seriously because if you are going to achieve the aircraft utilisation that they aim for and the turnarounds that they aim for then the last thing you need is a maintenance problem getting in your way.

  Q72  Graham Stringer: When we visited your headquarters before Christmas we had a discussion about the impact of the European air safety organisation and I want to paraphrase the discussion. It was that while southern states and new states within the European Union are being brought up to standard no improvements are taking place and many of the improvements you might wish to see or we might wish to see have not taken place. Is that the case, Sir Roy?

  Sir Roy McNulty: I think it is the case, as we mentioned in our memorandum to the Committee, that EASA is experiencing significant difficulties in getting itself set up and operating in a satisfactory way for a range of reasons and some may be to do with organisational difficulties, some may be to do with staffing difficulties and some may be to do with management or planning difficulties, I do not know, we are not inside the organisation. I think so far we are a bit disappointed with the way it has got going.

  Q73  Graham Stringer: So it is slowing down the improvement of safety regulations.

  Sir Roy McNulty: For example, the JAA had a rule making programme aimed at keeping up with safety issues in the industry and technology issues, and that rule making programme has certainly slowed down. I do not think, at the moment, safety rule making and safety standards setting is getting as much attention as it was, and we do not think that is a good situation.

  Q74  Graham Stringer: In some of the written evidence that has been presented to the Committee you are accused of being slow to embrace new technologies such as LED, by which I assume they mean light emitting dials although they do not say that. It is claimed that that is better for airfield lighting than current technologies. You are accused of being slow to change the regulations applying to the heights of buildings around airports, you are accused of applying rules that applied to aeroplanes that operated just after the Second World War, and you are also accused of not giving as much support to airports when they are developing new technologies as was the case in the past. Would you care to comment on those criticisms?

  Sir Roy McNulty: I will ask Mike Bell to comment on the specifics. I think it is probably true that we are cautious. That is not an entirely undesirable characteristic for a safety regulator but, more importantly, most of the things that you refer to relate to safety standards which are international standards. Quite a number of the standards that we aim to see in place in this country stem from ICAO and ICAO moves quite slowly. We are now in a situation where rule making and standards setting for aviation is handled by EASA on a pan-European basis and so it will not move very fast. We have little freedom of manoeuvre in the areas you have described, but I will ask Mike Bell to comment on the specifics.

  Mr Bell: In relation to the embracing of new technologies, I just did not know where that was coming from. We have embraced new technologies in the CAA at a pace driven largely by manufacturers from 1988, for example, when the Airbus fly-by-wire aircraft was first introduced. When the cathode tube technology came in at the same time we embraced that and when that changed to the LCD screens which are currently fitted to the triple seven we embraced that as well. I do not really recognise that. If there is an issue concerning airports, I will find out about that and answer it. As regards the height of buildings, our only input into that is as part of the airspace implications if it infringes a safety surface and there is a planning application where an airport has objected to the height of a building, for example, that is planned to be built near to it, which is quite relevant in this area, and it has an implication on the traffic patterns and the safety of aircraft flying into other airports or the airport itself.

  Q75  Graham Stringer: You wrote an excellent report on allowing regional airports to have freedoms for airlines landing there. The Government adopted that policy in late September, early October of last year and I think Ministers are keen, you are obviously keen and regional airports are keen, but I am less sure that officials at the Department for Transport are keen. Would you monitor the implementation of that policy, is that part of your role and part of your advice to Government?

  Dr Bush: As you know, we published a report on regional airports overall last February, so we see this as an important part of the information base that the CAA should be maintaining, and I would anticipate that in a year or two we will be looking at how the fifth freedom change that you are talking about had been implemented and what issues might have arisen in the meantime.

  Q76  Mr Scott: Sir Roy, I want to go back to what you were saying about some of the budget price carriers. If a carrier is not registered in this country but is predominantly using our airports for flying to other European destinations, do you believe it may be helpful if they came under the same jurisdiction as carriers who are registered in this country?

  Sir Roy McNulty: I think that is arguable, but certainly the system that is set up is based on the state of registry so that for all airlines and aircraft that are registered in the UK, we follow their safety affairs no matter where they fly in the world and, similarly, aircraft flying in here from other jurisdictions are registered and supervised by the regulatory authorities in those countries. You would need to pull the whole thing up by the roots and approach it in a different way if you wished to follow the line of thought that you have suggested, but the difficulty is that aircraft are very movable things and you would have a very difficult job of trying to regulate every aircraft that flies in and out of this country.

  Q77  Mr Scott: I was not actually referring to every aircraft that flies in and out of this country, but there are certain carriers who predominantly may be registered abroad, but they are using British airports the whole time to fly their customers and surely they should come under your jurisdiction.

  Sir Roy McNulty: Well, as I say, if the—

  Q78  Chairman: Sir Roy, can I just stop you there. This point has concerned, as you know, this Committee before and you do have the power, do you not, to do airport checks?

  Sir Roy McNulty: Absolutely and we do random checks, as we call them, on specific aircraft, picked, I was going to say at random", but actually it is not at random and I think it is quite carefully targeted on where we think there might be issues and we can carry out those checks if we have concerns.

  Q79  Mr Goodwill: Yes, that was the point I wanted to develop because it is apparent that every new former Soviet Republic has got its own airline and many people are concerned about the resources available to those airlines to maintain high safety standards. As I take it from your previous answer, it is slightly more than a tyre-kicking exercise, but there is very limited time in which you can inspect these aircraft when they are on the ground. Is that true?

  Sir Roy McNulty: That is true. Can I ask Mr Bell to expand a little bit on what we do?

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