Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

  The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of the UK has 4,000 individual members and 140 companies which are engaged in providing flying training and other specialist services employing about 17,000 people (source Oxford Economic Survey 1992). We are grateful to the committee for the opportunity to comment.

  General Aviation is defined as all aviation other than commercial air transport or the military."

  The fundamental problem that exists for the GA community is the lack of Government Policy towards our industry. This is made worse by the fact that the CAA's sponsor, the DfT, in its sponsorship document says nothing about the way the CAA should regulate General Aviation and this is wrong, in our view, particularly as we get swept up in the generality of policy when it comes to fees, for example, that the CAA is required to recover its costs from those it regulates.


  It is undesirable for there to be no top cover" for the CAA. The Authority effectively decides what work it should do, how many people it needs to do it and how much it should charge for the work. Because of the safety" aspect of the CAA's remit, it is difficult to challenge its decisions. Yet the CAA is no different from any other authority in that it is subject to the bureaucratic pressures of empire building, featherbedding and jobs for the boys". The CAA needs a permanent, independent review body to which industry can appeal when it believes it is being imposed upon for all the wrong reasons.


  The CAA's record on safety in general aviation needs to be split off from the overall safety picture. In fact, UK large public transport operations are safer than those of, for instance, the United States, where airline safety is poorer largely because of the record of commuter airlines, which have no real parallel in the UK. In purely general aviation terms, the UK's safety record is no better than that of the United States—and may be marginally worse—despite the overwhelmingly greater burden that the CAA imposes on general aviation when compared to the FAA. It does not follow that more regulation equals more safety. In fact, AOPA argues that in some circumstances the opposite is the case. Those countries in Europe which have regulated general aviation, almost to vanishing point, have the poorest safety records. What improves safety is pilot currency and practice, and the ever-increasing burden of CAA charges on general aviation mean that UK general aviation pilots are not as current as they could be. AOPA believes that CAA charges have already gone beyond the tipping point" at which regulatory costs become a drag on safety, and that a substantial reduction in the CAA's financial impost on general aviation would make flying safer.


  AOPA believes the structure of the hiring practices of the CAA are not optimal and, as a result, the Authority is too easily able to wash its hands of its mistakes. The executive directorship of the CAA should not be a short-term appointment, and there should be an end to the practice of hiring military officers who build second and third index-linked final salary pensions in executive positions while crossing off the days to retirement. An example of the negative effect of this practice is the introduction by the CAA of JAR-FCL, which the current Head of Safety Regulation recently termed a disaster" and for which he apologised. Yet there is no one around to answer for the decisions that were made at the time—all have moved on. Similarly, those who are making even more disastrous decisions today on CAA charges will not be around to answer for their mistakes in four or five years. This must stop, and the CAA must hire an executive cadre with proven commercial capabilities and a knowledge of general aviation as well as an overriding safety responsibility.


  For charging and oversight purposes, the CAA must stop treating aviation as a single entity. The airlines cannot be equated with GA. Airlines are overwhelmingly a leisure industry, with more than 75% of passengers flying for fun. They are massively subsidised, pay no fuel tax or VAT on tickets, buy cheap aircraft (thanks to government subsidies to manufacturers), enjoy bilateral deals which stifle competition and profit from passenger departure tax, which they bank for 90 days before passing on. They get direct government handouts of £2,320,720 a year to keep running unprofitable routes. They are hugely profitable. By contrast, more than 70% of general aviation flights are for business or flight training. GA pays a full measure of fuel tax and VAT, its margins are razor-thin or non-existent, and it is shrinking. GA pilots who go to the airlines provide de facto subsidies of between £50,000 and £100,000 each in the cost of training for which the airlines once paid. The commercial reality of general aviation must be recognised by the CAA, and its regulation costed accordingly.


  There must be a more robust attitude to repetitive inspections, which risk bringing the CAA into disrepute by looking like make-work, make-money projects. An installation check on a simulator is justified, even at a CAA price of £10,000. A follow-up inspection a year later may also be justified, but further annual inspections costing thousands of pounds when nothing has changed are unnecessary financial impositions on training schools and student pilots. Similarly, repetitive inspections of aerodromes where nothing has changed should be replaced by an audit system. There is no justification for requiring aerodromes to pay thousands of pounds for new surveys every five years when nothing has changed. Every CAA repetitive inspection should be scrutinised for value.

  Every department of the CAA should be required to justify its existence. AOPA questions whether the CAA needs a medical department when medical checks can cost-effectively be carried out by the private sector, where the real expertise lies. Does the CAA need a standing legal department? Can the work of the CAAFU be more cost-effectively carried out by the private sector with no diminution of safety? Why should the CAA place restrictions on private examiners who perform the work of the CAAFU? Does the CAA need offices in Kingsway as well as Gatwick, and regional offices around the country? Is it necessary for the CAA to issue licences when the work could be done more quickly and cost-effectively by agencies such as the DVLA? This Select Committee investigation provides a vital opportunity to take a clean-sheet approach to the level of involvement the CAA in general aviation. Is it possible to remove every aircraft under 5,700kg from CAA oversight and transfer responsibility to industry, as has been done with most permit aircraft?


  AOPA questions the requirement for the CAA to make a 6% return on capital. The norm for the public sector is 3.5%. Why should the regulation of aviation safety attract a more onerous profit requirement?

  AOPA believes that the CAA would become more efficient if it complied with the guidance material that is provided by the Cabinet Office. In a recent consultation on CAA charges it is the view of AOPA, based on independent expert advice, that the proposed changes to the CAA's Scheme of Charges should be subjected to a full RIA and small business impact test as well as a competitive analysis. Unfortunately the CAA believes that these items are only required for Primary legislation but given the fact that following an earlier flawed process the changes that are being considered go beyond a known formula eg RPI or Rate of Inflation and therefore Cabinet Office guidance implies that the aforementioned tests need to be completed. As there is no independent body for us to turn to for a decision the CAA say they are right and that's it. Well even if they are right, an independent ombudsman would be helpful on occasion like this.

  Its not all doom and gloom with the CAA as there are many good individuals employed there who do their work diligently, the difference is that when the CAA gets decisions wrong they do not normally go out of business. Our industry is littered with examples of where businesses have had to stop doing things because the costs involved outweigh the potential income. As with any market there is a limit to what it can bear before people give up or move to other regions in Europe and the USA just to stay in business.

  The CAA have begun two reviews of GA and if I was a cynical person I might be tempted to suggest that someone somewhere tipped them off that they were next in line for the Transport Committee to review! However I am sure it is merely a coincidence.

10 November 2005.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 8 November 2006