Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-402)


18 JANUARY 2006

  Q400  Clive Efford: Just to put a specific point: why should the airline industry subsidise General Aviation in terms of safety standards? In particular, why should the recreation sector of aviation be subsidised in that way?

  Mr Robinson: Could I answer that and say the General Aviation community and those people who seek flying careers actually take a huge subsidy into the airline with them, somewhere between £50,000 and £100,000. The cost of becoming a professional pilot today, if that is your desire, unless you come from a very wealthy background or parents who are prepared to finance your training through remortgaging their house, is extremely difficult for individuals from relatively less well-off means to pursue a career as a professional pilot. Whether it is right or not for there to be a cross-subsidy, the fact of the matter is flight training organisations form the nurseries for the airline world ultimately. Whether British Airways recruits pilots directly or not is not the issue. The Regional Airline Association has said on numerous occasions, Please do not pull General Aviation, they supply our pilots". There is a kind of pecking order here. People go to a regional airline and they gain experience with a regional airline and then move up into the main air carriers. I would illustrate General Aviation as being like a house of cards with GA at the bottom and if you start to pull around at the bottom ultimately the whole lot will tumble down. Our members do pay charges and they pay for everything that the CAA has a charge for. If there is an element of cross-subsidy it is not totally clear to us where that cross-subsidy actually lies.

  Mr Draper: There is another point here relative to charges in particular in that we do not have a level playing field. Commercial airline traffic saves itself £800 million a year in fuel duty, £2 billion a year in VAT, whereas General Aviation, private individuals using it for recreational, social and some business as well, pays fuel duty and VAT and has no means of recouping it. Therefore, the field cannot be regarded as level and, furthermore, as I said earlier, we are being kept out of more and more controlled airspace to the benefit of the airlines. The great majority of the passengers, your constituents, are going on holiday and the like, great, that is absolutely what we want them to do, is it not, but part of the cost of going on holiday has to be to pay proper airfares and the like. Maybe that needs to be looked at in relation to the actual total charging scene across CAA charges.

  Mr Robinson: Can I come back to your point about the review. The Cabinet Office Better Regulation Unit recently informed us that the Civil Aviation Authority should have conducted Regulatory Impact Assessment, a small business test, competitive analysis in relation to the recent increase in their charges because the increases that they have put forward have gone outside the known formula.

  Q401  Chairman: Would you be kind enough to give us a copy of that correspondence?

  Mr Robinson: I am currently awaiting a letter from the Cabinet Office at the moment.

  Q402  Clive Efford: Has the CAA's new cost structure had any impact on safety regulation in the way that General Aviation practices it? Is there a knock-on effect?

  Mr Robinson: Ultimately, private individuals fund their flying from their taxed income and they will have a proportion of the income available for flying. The higher charges, the fewer the hours they can fund. The best safety device on any aircraft is a well-trained pilot and safety is enhanced by having pilots flying, not just by pure regulation.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, you have been very helpful and really very interesting indeed. Thank you very much for your evidence.

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Prepared 8 November 2006