Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The British Air Line Pilots Association


  The British Air Line Pilots' Association (BALPA) is the Professional Association and trade union for over 8,200 UK commercial pilots. We represent pilots in every sector of the industry ranging from network airlines to North Sea helicopter operators.

  Our members constantly interface with the CAA; and the evidence that follows draws heavily on their experiences. As part of this exercise we have consulted across our membership as best as we are able in the time available; liaised with BALPA representatives in the 26 operators where we are recognised and closely involved the experienced pilots who comprise the various BALPA technical study groups.

  The general views that emerge are:

    —  that we are fortunate to have the CAA, it is an example that others should aspire to;

    —  but that there is growing concern that the operators, who fund the Authority, have a dominant voice;

    —  that the Authority is serving too many masters, the primary safety role is suffering and the time is ripe for it to shed some of its economic regulatory functions;

    —  that it is overseeing a drift into the flags of convenience that bedevils our merchant fleet; and

    —  it should play a more proactive role in:

      —  tackling the no-mans land of cross border operators; and

      —  stimulating debate on future growth issues, such as pilot labour supply and health issues.


  1.1  The CAA has an excellent reputation internationally as a regulator, and has historically been at the forefront of the development of civil aviation regulation. This is down to the UK's primacy as an aviation nation and to the cross party consensus that the CAA should remain primarily as an independent and effective safety and industry regulator.

  1.2  There is a belief that the Authority's remit has become over-extended with it having an increasing oversight for economic regulation generally and attention to micro economic decisions such as price-capping and the awarding of route rights. Arguably the need to focus on these areas of its remit has lead to a dilution of focus on its core role as a safety and standards regulator.

  1.3  It is possible that the CAA's need to straddle every industry issue has led to the neglect of a more proactive and dynamic approach to safety regulation which would have kept pace with changes in the industry. As key aviation stakeholders and professional employees it is the perception of many pilots that the Authority has neglected its role as safety policeman for that of an industry facilitator.


  2.1  That said, the CAA performs well in defending safety and safety standards in a difficult commercial environment where there is a growing tendency of corporate behaviour to be commercially rather than safety driven. The Authority oversees the safety licencing, registration and certification of UK operators and employs capable and experienced people to do so. It also audits the financial health and economic viability of UK licensed airlines, and ensures compliance with EU standards and instructions where appropriate.

  2.2  But it is performing less well in developing a credible and consistent procedure for dealing with airlines whose country of registration is outside the UK, and who exist in a regulatory twilight zone between different jurisdictions and have become increasingly expert in exploiting differences. Nor, we would argue, has it drilled down" into the day to day operational practices of some operators who are suspected of violating regulations or engaged enough with other relevant and qualified stakeholders.


  The UK CAA is considered by BALPA to rank amongst the safest regulators in the world, but this comes at a cost, passed onto the users who are then at a commercial disadvantage to their European competitors. Funding of the CAA should be from cental Government in line with other European states, and should be firmy based on a non profit approach (BALPA Flight Safety Group).

  3.1  The CAA manages to dovetail safety and economic regulation to a reasonable degree, from the point of view of industry growth/expansion and stability, but is reaching the limit of it organisational ability to juggle both adequately. The CAA has developed a sound expertise in regulating safety and this should remain its core competence. However, we feel that the Authority focuses too much on its role as facilitator of the industry. Quite often in its correspondence the CAA conflates the interest of operators and consumers as one and the same. We believe this is a dangerous assumption and that consumers are as interested in the accountability of operators and other players as they are in cheap fares and greater access.


  The CAA are far too operator led, in almost all instances on FTL changes they side with the industry when it wants to make changes that increase fatigue. We unfortunately have seen several instances of this at (company name) over the last eight months. The CAA are not willing to include the pilot workforce as a stakeholder in negotiations over changes. There is an inherent conflict of interests when a regulator is also charged with the promotion of UK aviation as a commercial concern (a BALPA Company Council).

  4.1  The CAA employs capable and experienced individuals to oversee its main areas of expertise, especially in air and ground safety and engineering. It works reasonably well with the industry to introduce and implement change and innovation and provides safe and efficient limits for crew scheduling to minimise fatigue, if not always adequately enforcing these. It provides a credible scientific lead on some aero-medical issues notably pilot ageing and health in contrast to the discredited politically influenced approach of other regulators. As we outline below we believe its has been deficient in dealing with the specific problem of cabin air quality.

  4.2  But in other areas the CAA performs less well. Inspection and oversight of individual operators can be patchy, meaning that some operators can game" the regulations, and often escape the minima laid down by the CAA. Often the Authority does not make the best use of the latest techniques and methodologies for assessing safety and regulation. Techniques such as auditing templates for safety and fatigue as predictors of problems are a case in point. The CAA is also guilty of being too reactive and relying on paper records, failing to triangulate and verify its information sources. Its consultative groups such as the Fixed Wing Advisory Group (FWAG) tend to be dominated by operator concerns and there is a general perception that employers are paying the bills" so can call the tune. The approach to other stakeholders feels very much one of consultation rather than active engagement.

  4.3  And, on the issue of fatigue risk assessment where we have sound flight duty limits, we have found poor enforcement in some critical areas. We would suggest that when changes are proposed to Flight Duty Limitations, (a direct safety issue), then BALPA, as the principal stakeholder for pilots, should be actively consulted.

  4.4  Turning to the sensitive issue of wet leasing and the relevant rules (EU 4097/92) which stipulate that such leasing should be undertaken only for temporary need or in exceptional circumstances", it is our view that the Authority is too laissez faire and is leading the UK into the same flag of convenience syndrome that so bedevils our merchant fleet.


  5.1  The Authority is at a crossroads as it contemplates a diminished role within domestic safety regulation and the handing over of authority for registration, licensing and a large degree of safety oversight to the emerging EASA. How we handle this transition is critical, and we do not believe it has received the governmental attention and support it deserves.

  5.2  We welcome the concept of a level playing field across Europe and believe that EASA should champion industry safety standards and certification holding member states accountable. However it is far from being equipped with either the staff or resources to do this effectively. And whilst we have expressed concerns about the CAA's role and remit, it is head and shoulders above that of some of its European comparators. The CAA is best placed to spread good practice within the EASA network and it would be a mistake for Government to conclude that as some of the remit of CAA is passed to EASA that the Authority should be slimmed down. We think there is an opportunity for the Authority to re-focus and re-dedicate itself to its primary safety and standards role, to provide a professional resource to EASA and to act as European leader.

  5.3  One consequence of open aviation within the EU is that whilst the majority of operators play by the rules and to the letter others skirt regulations, and seek to exploit differences between regulatory jurisdictions (see point 2.2 above). We believe that the CAA has largely failed to take such operators to task for two main reasons. Firstly, its systems and methodologies of safety oversight are outdated and encourage a box ticking approach to compliance and encourage an inspection regime which is reactive and easily managed by the unscrupulous. Secondly, it fails to use its reputation and strength as a regulator to mentor other regulators in their approach, and to educate them in the primacy of their safety role. As a result some other jurisdictions have adopted a focus on the commercial viability of the industry and in doing so have taken a lead from the CAA.

  5.4  Security is another area where we feel the CAA has been insufficiently bold in challenging the unrealistic policies of other jurisdictions, and where the burden on operators and employees has risen to no great effect.


Health and Safety: A Major Omission?

  6.1  The Authority has always exhibited a blind spot when it comes to the safety and health of onboard aviation personnel. Arguably this was influenced as much by the confused sectoral approach of the HSE, as by any deliberate disregard for occupational heath and safety. Whatever its consequences, this omission in promoting an agenda of occupational health and safety, has left a major gap which has only began to be addressed. The CAA can, and should, require operators to afford adequate time off to allow Health and Safety representatives adequate paid time off to address their tasks.

  To operate its Heath and Safety remit effectively the Authority needs to provide specialised resource that it currently does not possess and it needs to tap more into the accumulated experience of HSE inspectors as an interim measure.

Aircraft Environment and Toxic Fume Events: A Major Failing

  6.2  Nowhere has its Health and Safety failing for the aviation workforce been more apparent than in the area of cabin air quality. One of the CAA's primary roles is to ensure that general aviation activities meet required safety standards, eg it scrutinises any occurrences which have possible safety implications (ie might lead to incapacitation). Historically, it has not considered its responsibility to extend to events leading to some form of impairment in crews, or the short and long term medical effects related to exposure to contaminated air. This should be a responsibility of the CAA as safety regulator.

  Under section 7 (1A) of the CAA Aviation Health Bill the Secretary of State is to be responsible for organising, carrying out and encouraging measures for safeguarding the health of persons on board aircraft".

  On cabin air quality, arguably a significant health risk the Authority has to date conducted only a limited survey based on flawed methodology. This survey was not, in the normal manner of scientific/technical papers, peer reviewed." Nor has the Authority implemented a credible research programme for determining the origin and effects of intoxication on both crew and passengers in the short and long term. We believe this reluctance is due to its conflicted role, and that this issue has to be addressed in the interest of health and safety. The Authority should develop a research agenda to provide expert advice to those affected, by closely co-operating with other leading regulators such as the US Federal Aviation Administration.

6.3  Pilot Training: A Missed Opportunity?

  Airline pilot training is amongst the most expensive occupational training undertaken. Yet its is treated like a hobby. There is no tax relief, or soft loans and no initiative from government, in contrast to other nations. As a result UK airlines face a diminishing pool of qualified and type rated pilots. With pilot training costing £50-70,000, the pool of potential recruits is diminishing and some are concerned about the quality therein. The CAA as a safety and standards regulator should have an interest in the quality of pilot training. It should at the very least help to plan and predict future pilot requirements and should act to encourage training effort. BALPA is happy to work with the Authority on this. One additional concern in terms of pilot training is the continuing curtailment of general aviation. GA is where pilots learn to fly and exercise their professional skills. GA and business aviation are growing areas and we have to safeguard its place in the industry. Pilot training is one crucial aspect of this.


  7.1  BALPA believes in the CAA as an effective safety and standards regulator. However, as it is currently constituted, it has become conflicted by its dual role as safety and economic regulator for the airline industry. And although providing an excellent template for safety and standards it has not, because of resource constraints, been able to enforce these as effectively as it should. As a result it has missed some pivotal issues affecting the industry, and has failed to take forward agendas such as health and safety.

  7.2  The CAA is we believe, overburdened with economic and commercial tasks, many of which conflict with its goal as safety and industry standards regulator. In addition it should be responsible for overseeing the safety aspects of air traffic control. But does it have to oversee the economic and commercial activities of the industry? In our view many of its economic functions, such as determining the price cap regime for user charges and for airports, conflicts with and even deflects the CAA from its core purpose as a safety and standards regulator.

  7.3  As a result there is a case for the CAA role to be redefined as a safety and standards regulator with the addition of a distinct health and safety remit. To do so it must retain and even supplement its staff strength. The CAA should be re-constituted as a Not for Profit concern, with an appropriate funding source derived from Central Government, and supplemented by chargeable services to operators.

  7.4  The economic and commercial activities of the CAA should be hived off into a newly established Transport Economic Regulator, dealing with all issues of transport market access, pricing and economic regulation. This would bring in the disparate rail regulators and also those overseeing bus services, as well as the emerging road pricing initiatives. The pooled expertise and shared experience would be vital to a truly integrated transport policy.

  7.5  The Aviation Health unit should be refocused on investigating health issues which affect staff and public. It should develop its own research agenda and providing expert advice to those affected. It should act independent of all stakeholders and be primarily concerned with prevention. Its expertise needs to be supplemented to deal with the issues such as cabin air quality, DVT, radiation exposure etc. The UK AHU could provide a lead to other EU nations.

14 November 2005

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