Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)


11 JANUARY 2006

  Q180  Mr Scott: From what you were just saying would you agree that for an airline which is not registered in Britain, as a number of budget airlines are not, if they came within the jurisdiction of the Civil Aviation Authority that would alleviate some of this problem you have just mentioned through proper servicing of the aircraft?

  Captain Granshaw: I think Sir Roy did describe the problem with it, that altering the way we currently regulate in that context would be like pulling the roots up.

  Q181  Chairman: Is that not an IATA recommendation?

  Captain Granshaw: I am not sure where the recommendation comes from but what I would say is that not all regulation is the same. ICAO are the overall regulator and it does conduct an audit and there are marks and measures given, but we are aware that some of the airlines—we now call them trans-national airlines—operate in a regulatory twilight zone and their choice of place of regulation is determined more by the cost of that regulation and the chances of being stopped by the regulator. It is far easier to be regulated over there and then operate somewhere completely different. It is an area that needs addressing. It would be ideal for us to be stronger in that arena. I do not think it is possible in an aeroplane that arrives into UK territory for half an hour or an hour, with the best will in the world you could flood it with engineers but actually could you get to the core of just how safe that airline is; the answer is probably not. I think there was a definition that was missing in European law which was principal place of business" and I think that if your principal place of business is in the UK or you have a significant place of business in the UK you probably should be regulated in the UK. We have seen what happened with the merchant fleets and flags of convenience. We are drifting into that twilight zone.

  Q182  Mr Goodwill: A question for Mr Eagles really. Whilst reference has been made to airlines that operate in many countries but are flagged out for reasons of convenience, there are a number of emerging airlines flying from countries that people had not heard of 10 years ago into the UK. Is it your opinion that some of these airlines would fail inspections were they to be based in the UK and subject to the rigorous regime of inspection and engineering expertise that you can give flag carriers in this country?

  Mr Eagles: Yes, there are a number of aeroplanes, and it applies also in general aviation, where British owners of aircraft register their aircraft in, in particular, the United States where because their National Airworthiness Authority does not have to get its finance from the industry, in other words the state pays, therefore the aircraft are operated cheaper, and we have quite a lot of American-registered aeroplanes—Bahamian, British Virgin Islands—just operating on a flag of convenience. Coming back to your other question—

  Q183  Chairman: Can I just you there for a second, Mr Eagles, because Captain Granshaw made the important point that we are drifting into this equivalent of flag of convenience. Quite apart from the actual registration of the individual flights, is there any individual check made by the CAA of the numbers of times in which primary services are operated within the United Kingdom for aircraft registered elsewhere?

  Mr Eagles: I am not sure of this but certainly British aeroplanes can be maintained in any European state now and some of the emerging European Union States' maintenance facilities are probably not as good as they should be.

  Q184  Mr Goodwill: This is not anything to do with the fact that their engineers are paid much less than engineers in the United Kingdom? Is it a genuine safety issue or a protectionist issue in connection with your members?

  Mr Eagles: No, it is a genuine safety issue. On the safety issue that was mentioned earlier on, one of the problems we feel is that the CAA are not strong enough in making British Airways or national carriers regulate their maintenance. For instance, the licensed engineer was always present at the departure of an airliner and that now has been withdrawn, so that now for an aircraft of British Airways departing from Gatwick or Heathrow there is not a licensed maintenance engineer in attendance. One is available but he is not in attendance on the ramp as we feel he should be. The Australians had a similar problem and their union kicked up about it and managed to preserve the licensed engineer on the ramp.

  Q185  Mr Goodwill: Do you think there is enough communication between engineers in new Member States with regards to the blacklisting of certain airlines and do you think the blacklisting system is too blunt a tool and it could be refined in some way?

  Mr Eagles: I think it is too blunt a tool. I do not quite know its legality. Can we stop another European state's engineering company looking after an aeroplane? I do not think we can.

  Mr Goodwill: I was thinking more in terms of an airline from, say, an African country or a central European country which has had concerns raised about it. There seems to be no halfway house. Either nobody knows a thing about that airline or all of a sudden they are blacklisted. How does that work in that period between concerns being raised and that blacklisting?

  Q186  Chairman: Do you know the Federal Aviation Authority's methods of operation in relation to third countries? Are you aware of way that the FAA discipline and control third country aircraft and would you think that was a better system?

  Mr Eagles: I would think it is, yes.

  Q187  Chairman: Captain Granshaw?

  Captain Granshaw: Absolutely, the blacklist is a very crude tool and will not actually solve the core symptoms.

  Q188  Clive Efford: Can I just follow that up. Just enlighten me, what is the situation if a plane is considered defective in any way? Presumably we have the authority to ground it?

  Mr Eagles: In our own country, yes.

  Q189  Clive Efford: So even if it has been maintained elsewhere if it is not deemed safe it would not be allowed to take off again if it landed in the UK?

  Mr Eagles: It would be the Civil Aviation Authority inspector.

  Q190  Clive Efford: How effective is that in maintaining standards even for aircraft that are not maintained in the UK under the CAA's standards?

  Mr Eagles: I do not think it occurs very often but it is there and it does happen.

  Q191  Clive Efford: In your opinion, does it have an effect on other airlines that use the UK?

  Mr Eagles: Yes.

  Q192  Clive Efford: So in a sense they are applying UK standards?

  Mr Eagles: That is right. I believe it makes them think twice about sending defective aeroplanes here.

  Q193  Clive Efford: Can I move on to staffing. Prospect has told us that there are unfilled professional posts in the Air Traffic Services Investigation arm of the CAA and has suggested that there are some key posts that have remained unfilled because of the lower salaries that the CAA pay in comparison to NATS. We asked questions about that earlier on. I do not know if you heard the answers but we were told that that situation is being resolved. Would you care to comment on that?

  Mr Luxton: I can confirm that as of today there are still 70 unfilled vacancies within the Civil Aviation Authority as a whole. That was information I was given as of this afternoon. The point we were making there about the market rates is simply that there is a recognition that in order to attract the people who are going to be regulating effectively NATS on the air traffic side, you need to have very experienced air traffic controllers coming in, obviously with that relevant experience, and there is a widening of the gap between NATS' salaries and those at the CAA. Whilst I would, modestly, like to put that down to my negotiating skills on behalf of the air traffic controllers in NATS but the fact is that we have not managed to maintain those same salary levels within the CAA. The way we attempt to bridge that gap is through market supplements and we have negotiated with the Civil Aviation Authority on market supplements. Our issue there is that we do not believe the CAA has sufficient resources to plug the gaps that are needed to bridge those gaps in every area and it does mean that they have recruitment campaigns that fail to get the necessary people in that they require.

  Q194  Clive Efford: Just so that is clear because you have said in your evidence that within the past 18 months there have been two separate recruitment exercises which failed to attract sufficient suitable candidates, leaving the posts unfilled"; you are saying that is still the case?

  Mr Luxton: That is still the case. Clearly there is a lot of fluidity within that, that you get some posts that have been filled but you get gaps elsewhere and then other people leave, so you have got these constant gaps and it is difficult for the CAA to staff up to their full cadre. Our issue here is that it is important that they have the resources and the market rates appropriate to get the right people in. Whether it be the air traffic inspectors or the flight operations inspectors, it is essential that we have the right salaries to attract the best calibre of people for those roles.

  Q195  Clive Efford: It is not a question of there not being people out there with the appropriate skills; it is a question purely of market forces not paying enough?

  Mr Luxton: It is a market forces issue.

  Q196  Clive Efford: Is there an issue—and this is an open question to any of you—about the experience with which people come to work for the CAA concerning over-reliance on former military personnel rather than people with civilian experience? Is that an issue at all?

  Mr Luxton: We did not articulate that in our evidence but there is certainly an undercurrent there, a feeling that there is too much reliance on ex-RAF rather than personnel with civil aviation experience.

  Q197  Chairman: You heard the suggestion, which we know is of course an accurate one, that they work alongside your own traffic controllers, do they not?

  Mr Luxton: Yes, they do.

  Q198  Chairman: So why should there be automatically, to be devil's advocate, a gap between their knowledge of how the system works and your own controllers' knowledge about the system? They may have different functions but they do work alongside one another.

  Mr Luxton: They do. Our concern is that there is an over-loyalty towards the needs of the military users.

  Q199  Chairman: So it is perceived. You cannot necessarily demonstrate there is a problem; it is perceived?

  Mr Luxton: That is fair comment. It is the perception that there is not sufficient civil aviation experience.

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