Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)


18 JANUARY 2006

  Q380  Mr Goodwill: I am getting the impression that General Aviation seems to be the poor relation and everything seems to be focused on the airlines and you are a bit of an add-on. Would that be a right impression?

  Mr Wilson: I think it is right that the small proportion of aircraft flying without us, as the airlines do, have the greatest attention. We would actually say if you follow risk-based regulation through that is correct. Where we have a problem is where we are forced to pick up regulation which was clearly designed for others.

  Mr Draper: This brings us back to the comment which was made by earlier parties represented here in terms of the beneficiary pays or the user pays being the principle. At the moment the user pays and we believe very much that it should be the beneficiary that pays. It is a fact that because of the increasing amount of commercial airline traffic in this country in particular, the General Aviation community is being kept out of airspace, which one would say is our common right to be in, in that we are having to pay for the costs of the increased airspace funnelling the aircraft that are wanting to use it into narrower and narrower corridors and less of it being available. As the airline industry increases in size this will become ever more the situation. So we are paying.

  Q381  Mr Goodwill: Is this disadvantaging companies whose main business is not aviation? For example, I am thinking of Ford Motor Company who fly engineers to their Cologne plant from the UK and find difficulty getting slots and they are being disadvantaged. Is that affecting the wider economy of the UK, the fact that commercial operations that use General Aviation find they cannot operate as freely as they would like?

  Mr Wilson: Ford Motor Company are members of ours. It is indeed a problem in terms of slot access. General Aviation does not seek any great favours, what we seek is fairness. For instance, we were effectively squeezed out of Heathrow because of slot access. Around London a number of airports have sprung up, as indeed recommended in the White Paper, to look after the interests of business and General Aviation: Farnborough, Biggin Hill, et cetera. I think it is important that communities, councils if they are involved in their particular airport, understand the overall benefit of General Aviation. Studies that we have show that access to sensible business class, in terms of efficiency and timescale of travel is about third or fourth on the list of inward investment decisions. That is the type of thing which frequently can be provided by General Aviation aircraft whether it is a business or an individual flying their own aircraft. To cut that down is something that the country would do it at its risk.

  Mr Robinson: In relation to things like the Hampton Report, and we welcome the Hampton Report, there is a need inside the Civil Aviation Authority for them to understand the outflow of that report and to look at things like Regulatory Impact Assessments, small business impact tests, competitive analysis. A good example of where that would have been useful was the introduction of JAA FCL which has had a huge impact on General Aviation. There are fewer instrument rated pilots and there are fewer multi-engine pilots. These statistics are from the CAA's own data. The reality is that General Aviation is in a decline. Over 10 years ago we were issuing 40% more licences than we are today. The activity at airports is down between 25 and 37%. Access to regional airports is extremely difficult as the pricing policies of these airports keep General Aviation operators out. Taking a light twin to Bristol Airport, one of our members recently faced a bill of £180. The problem for General Aviation is that it is being sucked up into the commercial area when it really needs a fresh look at how it can continue into the future.

  Q382  Chairman: To be devil's advocate for a moment, the pressures of economics are always going to come into play, are they not? If there is a limited amount of space, and that includes airports as well as facilities generally, does it not mean that there will be pressure on prices?

  Mr Robinson: That may be true, however one of the people speaking earlier on today was talking about the slowness at which the CAA reacts to the introduction of new technology. If we saw a GPS-based approach being introduced to more General Aviation airfields we would have more opportunities for General Aviation to fly safely into a greater number of airfields and not need to come into the regional airports. The French have done this. The French have already set this up, but we seem to want to gold plate it and take a long time before we introduce it.

  Q383  Chairman: To be fair, the French are fairly brutal in their approach to using the Armee de l'Air in air traffic control and the use of airspace. They are rather more rigid in the general control of their airspace, do you not think, or am I being unfair?

  Mr Robinson: That has not been my experience of flying in France. Most of the French airfields are owned by the local authorities who seem to want to promote those airfields.

  Mr Draper: If I can just add to Mr Robinson's comments. There is a safety issue in relation to access to regional airports for the General Aviation sector in that if we cannot get into these airports which have facilities to enable us to practise our instrument landings, for example, then we cannot be as safe as we ought to be and, therefore, that should be encouragement to introduce this other new technology.

  Q384  Clive Efford: We have touched on what this question relates to but GA Alliance argues that the CAA over-regulates General Aviation massively, sometimes to the detriment of general safety. Other than aircraft and pilots registering abroad, can you give examples of the CAA's regulatory regime being detrimental to safety?

  Mr Draper: There is a sort of inbuilt safety for safety's sake when it is not actually required. It is in the thinking, in the ethos of the CAA. Can I come back to you with some examples of that afterwards, please?

  Q385  Clive Efford: Can I perhaps prompt a response. What we have been given in evidence is that, for instance, relating to the UK instrumental rating, the number of pilots who hold that qualification is 2% in comparison with America where it is 50% and that is an area where the system is failing.

  Mr Draper: I can respond to that, Chairman. The requirements of the JAA instrument rating acquisition now are so difficult and for a private pilot to set aside three months or more to obtain a rating they cannot afford to do so if they are in business or any other activity. It costs a great deal of money and takes a great deal of time and effort. Alternatively, the American system, to which most of them have migrated as a result, is where they can obtain an instrument rating much more easily and yet it does not make any difference to the standards of being required to fly. They are operating in the UK, admittedly with an American registered aeroplane, equally as safely as a UK instrument rated pilot. Furthermore, if there was any question that they were not as safe the CAA would have to do something about all the American pilots coming in on commercial entry forms.

  Q386  Clive Efford: You say that it is extremely expensive, can you give us some idea of exactly what costs are involved?

  Mr Draper: Around £30,000 but I can come back to you with some bigger figures.

  Q387  Clive Efford: To get the same qualification would be a fraction of that, would it?

  Mr Draper: Absolutely.

  Q388  Clive Efford: It would pay to go all that way?

  Mr Draper: Pilots do do that. The issue is the acquisition of more safety for pilots. The CAA and other authorities should be promoting pilots increasing their safety ratings and this is one way of doing it, by making it easier for them to get ratings. These private pilots are not wanting to fly a commercial airliner, they would have to get commercial ratings to enable them to do that, they want to be able to fly their small General Aviation aircraft more safely, more reliably during weather conditions in the UK and Europe and thereby do their business.

  Q389  Clive Efford: Mr Wilson, can I return to you. You said that you feel that the CAA is reluctant to use its powers in some areas such as ramp checks on non-UK registered aircraft because they cannot recover the cost from the foreign registered owner. What hard evidence do you have that the CAA acts in this way?

  Mr Wilson: Our concern is one where there are an awful lot of aircraft, say business aircraft, that arrive at Luton over a weekend and we would be surprised if there were permits in place for all of those aircraft if they are commercial carriers. Because there is not such a threat of a ramp check we are concerned, and of course we cannot prove this without the ramp checks having taken place, that some of those aircraft will arrive, declare themselves to be non-commercial flights simply on the basis there is not a ramp inspection that is likely to take place, and therefore circumvent the regulations requiring commercial carriers to register with the Department for Transport before they fly in.

  Q390  Clive Efford: You can give no specific evidence to demonstrate this is the case, it is just a suspicion you have?

  Mr Wilson: It is a strong suspicion but obviously we cannot until such ramp inspections take place.

  Q391  Chairman: What sort of percentages are you talking about, Mr Wilson? I am sure that something like this happens but what percentage of flights would this be? It would be a way to circumvent all sorts of laws presumably, not just the ramp checks.

  Mr Wilson: I would not say it is a majority but it is a minority that is not insignificant. Beyond that it would be difficult to say. There are an awful lot of aircraft that will arrive and I think those people who are based at Luton or other airports, I do not want to just highlight Luton here, would question the fact whether those aircraft truly were commercial or non-commercial.

  Q392  Chairman: Have you ever raised that with the CAA?

  Mr Wilson: It is more an issue with regard to the Department for Transport. Our concern that we were outlining in our submission was that there should be more funding directed to the CAA from the DfT to conduct these ramp checks.

  Q393  Chairman: What response did you get?

  Mr Wilson: People have looked at individual cases where we have provided information where we believe an operation has taken place illegally and in my relatively brief tenure in this post we are not aware of any action having been taken.

  Q394  Clive Efford: Assuming this is taking place, to what extent do you think safety is compromised?

  Mr Wilson: It is unlikely to have a huge impact on safety but what it is doing is distorting competition.

  Q395  Clive Efford: I do not understand. It would concern me if somebody operating from abroad knew that they could regularly fly in and avoid the checks. The objective of the checks fundamentally is safety, is it not? They could actually be flying unsafe aircraft in and out of the country.

  Mr Wilson: No. I think what is more the case is there are permit restrictions on commercial aircraft coming into any country and an operator will wish to avoid those permit restrictions as opposed to undercutting safety.

  Q396  Chairman: What you are saying is that these are commercial flights that are re-jigged as being personal flights and, therefore, they escape the sort of controls that a commercial competitor would have to comply with.

  Mr Wilson: That is exactly it. Our point in the submission was to say we believe there should be greater funding from DfT to enable the CAA to conduct more of these checks.

  Clive Efford: Do any of you have examples of where the CAA avoids using their powers similar to this situation?

  Q397  Mr Martlew: Just on the funding side, are you saying the government should give the CAA money to do these checks or should it come out of self-financing?

  Mr Wilson: My understanding is that is the case today.

  Q398  Mr Martlew: So the government do pay?

  Mr Wilson: Yes. This is somewhere where the government is seeking that airlines or aircraft coming into the UK are safe. That has the added advantage of ensuring they are abiding by permit restrictions as well.

  Q399  Clive Efford: Was the General Aviation sector encouraged to be part of the CAA's cost review? Were the views of the GA—I am taking it from the faces in front of me that I know the answer already. How were the views of the GA community received by the CAA?

  Mr Wilson: I was a part of the joint review team formed in this regard. It was something that we regarded very much as a working group to look at future charging mechanisms for the authority. We were unable to reach an agreement on key parts of that and, therefore, BBGA did file a minority report when that process was concluded. It was very much a working group which then deferred what action to be taken by the CAA Board. Our concern was the joint review team focused very much on how to distribute charges within the current framework and we would far sooner have seen a review with regard to who is the ultimate beneficiary, is it correct that aviation companies pay for policy development work which is frequently not done in other sectors, things of this nature which were not covered to the same degree.

  Dr Steeden: Being with but not of the GA community can I answer that question on behalf of the aerospace manufacturers and service providers. We were represented on the joint review. As far as I recollect, we were not party to the GA minority report. I confess, I do not know the details of that but I think it is important to register that fact.

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