Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)


18 JANUARY 2006

  Q340  Chairman: So we can blame you?

  Mr Cahn: Please do. I hope you blame me for the good things as well as the bad things.

  Q341  Chairman: There is lots of scope, Mr Cahn.

  Mr Cahn: There is a lot of scope. EASA has good parts and bad parts. I am convinced that the concept of EASA remains a correct one and I do not think anybody at this table would wish to return simply to the JAA approach. However, what is true and I would agree with Sir Roy about is that EASA has made a poor and disappointing start. There is excessive bureaucracy, there is inadequate funding and there is poor management.

  Q342  Chairman: So apart from that, it is fine?

  Mr Cahn: Yes. I believe that EASA itself has the scope to contribute to greater safety in Europe.

  Q343  Chairman: If we live long enough it will be great. I want to ask a question of BATA. The Committee has heard of a case where a passenger was taken ill on a domestic flight and was simply left to fend for herself in an unknown airport far from her destination, the plane was diverted and the pilot subsequently refused to carry the passenger, despite medical staff declaring her fit to travel. What is your policy in such cases?

  Mr Wilshire: I do not know the case to which you refer.

  Q344  Chairman: I have no doubt that the Member, who is a member of this Committee, will gladly give you copies of the correspondence. What happened was that they were left to fend for themselves at Liverpool Airport on Sunday evening and they had to pay £180 for a taxi to Bristol, nor have they been reimbursed. So you do not have a particular policy about that set of circumstances?

  Mr Wilshire: Chairman, I think this needs to be investigated in terms of which airline.

  Q345  Chairman: We will happily send you copies of the correspondence with the agreement of the MP. Why do airlines refuse to carry people with reduced mobility, Mr O'Leary?

  Mr O'Leary: We do not and we never have done. We welcome all passengers with reduced mobility and always have.

  Q346  Chairman: I am sure that will be very good when it is publicised. What about the scheduled airlines, do you have problems with ferrying anyone with reduced mobility?

  Mr Humphreys: Certainly from the point of view of my airline, we go to enormous trouble to take care of passengers with reduced mobility and we carry many of them all the time and indeed we win many awards for doing so. As far as I am aware most other scheduled carriers are in a similar position.

  Q347  Chairman: Have you ever considered that you might be prosecuted under health and safety legislation and therefore decide it was not in your interests?

  Mr Humphreys: No.

  Q348  Chairman: And you, Mr Cahn?

  Mr Cahn: No.

  Mr O'Leary: No.

  Mr Cahn: I absolutely associate myself with what Mr Humphreys has said. We go to great lengths to provide for passengers with reduced mobility. There is, however, a regulatory issue. Currently we have legislation contemplated in Brussels and in the United Kingdom and in Washington all covering the same area. We are very keen to contribute to legislative action to look after such passengers, but it should be co-ordinated legislation so we do not have conflicting or overlapping regulation.

  Q349  Chairman: So we do not have to do anything until we get worldwide agreement, is that it?

  Mr Cahn: Worldwide agreements will always be the best. I suspect that will not work. Agreements at a Community level and then agreements across the Atlantic would be beneficial.

  Q350  Chairman: BATA says that the difference in costs of registration, even after proposed changes to safety regulation charges, will be 50% more than in Ireland and five times more than in Germany. Can the CAA achieve efficiencies large enough to bring their fees into line with the rest of Europe?

  Mr Wilshire: Eventually, yes, based on EASA setting the rules and the implementation of those rules being consistent across all European states.

  Q351  Chairman: What is a fair rate, for example, when we are considering a 6% rate of return on capital, because although it has been presented as being, somehow or other, an added tax, it would certainly be regarded by most regulators as a realistic assessment of the use of facilities and capital?

  Mr Humphreys: I have great difficulty understanding what that return on assets is actually for. I believe when the CAA was set up in 1972 certain assets were transferred from the government to the CAA, but that was 30-odd years ago and most companies would have long since written off assets such as those. I am not aware of any additional money put in by the government or assets of any form because the CAA since then has been self-financing. It is not clear to me at all why there should be a return.

  Q352  Chairman: Since it is an industry-financed organisation, why do you think the National Audit Office, which is very much a government department, should have a role in the auditing of the CAA?

  Mr Humphreys: For the reason that Mr Cahn mentioned, that the CAA by definition and quite rightly is a monopoly. Someone should have a look at monopolists to ensure that they are efficient and effective.

  Q353  Chairman: Do you think one way you could get round that would be by reference to the Competition Commission?

  Mr Humphreys: That may be an alternative, but I am not sure the Competition Commission is really set up for that sort of investigation, but it is worth looking at.

  Q354  Chairman: If there was an automatic referral to the Competition Commission would it not automatically ensure that you had your rights protected as airport users?

  Mr Humphreys: Perhaps. The Competition Commission, if I understand it correctly, is primarily interested in competition. There cannot be competition when it comes to a regulator. That is why I say I am not sure that is the ideal organisation to look at it.

  Q355  Chairman: Several times today you and various other people have suggested that the interests of consumers in airlines are absolutely parallel, particularly in relation to the regulation of airport charges. Why do you think that should be suggested?

  Mr Humphreys: If as airlines we do not associate ourselves with the interests of our customers we would very rapidly go out of business.

  Q356  Chairman: Why should the customer automatically be regarded as having the same interests as the airlines when it comes to charges for airports, which is one of your normal overheads presumably unless you take to landing in a field?

  Mr Humphreys: Because the charges that the airports make on the airlines get passed on to the consumer and therefore he has a direct interest in what the airports charge.

  Q357  Chairman: So we are assuming that everything will be passed on. Mr Cahn, you have argued the process of improving airspace changes needs to be reformed. Why and how?

  Mr Cahn: We are now entering a period when airspace is particularly heavily used and ever more congested, particularly in the south-east of England. We think that the traditional way that that part of the CAA has approached the regulation of airspace is simply too slow, it has taken typically four or five years to make any changes, it is too cumbersome and does not respond to the needs of the market. For example, if there are to be changes at any of the airports in the south-east of England to achieve the objectives set out very clearly in the December 2003 White Paper of maximising the use of the current infrastructure in the south-east of England substantial changes to airspace will be needed and that will take a very long time if the old processes are used.

  Q358  Chairman: Do you think it is common that the height indication of flight paths is changed on a piecemeal basis?

  Mr Cahn: I think that it perhaps is not as well co-ordinated as it might be. I am really talking about the time it takes and the way the process is developed.

  Q359  Chairman: Do you think the environmental impact of these changes is ever considered in sufficient depth?

  Mr Cahn: I think that the environmental impact of all aspects of aviation is getting ever higher in terms of policy importance.

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