Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 403-419)


25 JANUARY 2006

  Chairman: Good afternoon to you, gentlemen. You are most warmly welcome. I am afraid we have one little bit of housekeeping. Would members of the Committee having interests please declare them?

  Mr Martlew: I am a member of the Transport and General Workers Union and the General Municipal Workers Union.

  Clive Efford: I am a member of the Transport and General Workers Union.

  Graham Stringer: I am a member of Amicus.

  Chairman: I am a member of ASLEF.

  Mrs Ellman: I am a member of the Transport and General Workers Union.

  Mr Leech: None.

  Q403  Chairman: Thank you very much for that. Gentlemen, could we begin by identifying you for the record, starting on my left?

  Dr Braithwaite: I am Graham Braithwaite. I am the Director of the Cranfield Safety and Accident Investigation Centre at Cranfield University.

  Professor Thomas: I am Callum Thomas. I am the Head of the Centre for Air Transport and the Environment at the Manchester Metropolitan University.

  Mr Mans: I am Keith Mans, Chief Executive of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

  Mr Starkie: I am David Starkie, Consultant and Visiting Professor at the Sauder Business School, University of British Columbia.

  Q404  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Does anybody have anything they want to say briefly before we go to questions? If not, we have been told that it is impossible for the CAA as a single organisation to reconcile all the conflicting pressures upon it because of the different areas of regulation. Is that fair? Who wants to have a go?

  Dr Braithwaite: There is not a simple answer to that question. It is something that the CAA appears to have accomplished very well. That is not to suppose that that could always be the case. There are certainly examples overseas, and I can think of one from Australia, where the Civil Aviation Authority found it very difficult to execute both its safety regulation and its other duties and that led to it being split but I do not necessarily see the same problems within the CAA as it stands.

  Q405  Chairman: Does anybody have any other comments on that? Do you have any other view of this, Mr Mans?

  Mr Mans: No, I do not. I think if it is properly organised it is a perfectly sensible way to go forward. I do think some external auditing is probably necessary though.

  Chairman: We will come to that in a minute if you do not mind.

  Q406  Mr Leech: You said that they separated it in Australia. Were there some benefits in doing that? Did it improve the situation?

  Dr Braithwaite: I do not think the answer is clear-cut. There were some disbenefits from it as well. It was not a simple issue. There were problems within the CAA which later led to accidents within[1]—

  Q407 Mr Leech: Could you possibly elaborate on that? What were the benefits and what were the disbenefits?

  Dr Braithwaite: One of the benefits was that the Authority was very clear what its remit was, particularly in terms of safety regulation. I think we achieve that in this country by the Safety Regulation Group being a clear and distinct part of the CAA here. I would say that was the clearest distinction, that people knew exactly what their organisation was about.

  Q408  Chairman: Can I ask all of you what will the Civil Aviation Authority look like in 20 years' time?

  Mr Mans: Very different.

  Q409  Chairman: Mr Mans, yes, I think we can guess that. In what way?

  Mr Mans: The whole aerospace and aviation communities are expanding in a number of different directions and I think the Authority has to keep up with what is going on. On the one hand, clearly more regulation is going to start off from the other side of the Channel with EASA and I think the tasks that the CAA will be doing in 20 years' time will be rather different. As an example, I suspect that, compared with what has happened in the past, the CAA will have to pay more attention to general aviation in the future.

  Q410  Chairman: Apart from general aviation, Professor Thomas, if we were starting from somewhere new would it look the same as it does now?

  Professor Thomas: I think the extent to which environmental issues are going to drive the industry in 20 years' time means that this is an area which is going to have far greater influence than it has had in the past. We are going to need to look at trade-offs between different impacts. We are going to have to optimise different environmental impacts and trade-offs between economic benefit and environmental cost, so there are a number of different issues that will contribute to deciding what is required for the sustainable development of the industry.

  Q411  Chairman: Mr Mans, you said that the CAA should delegate and subcontract more of its functions to competent third parties on a competitive basis. Which bits?

  Mr Mans: I would probably say that some of the pieces associated with general aviation were a good example, but I think some of the activities that are at present carried out by, for instance, licensing of lighter aircraft could be delegated to the governing bodies of those particular types of operation.

  Q412  Chairman: Do you think that would be cheaper for those involved in general aviation?

  Mr Mans: I think they would probably get better value.

  Q413  Chairman: So you are not suggesting necessarily that they will pay lower costs? What you are saying is that they will get a much better deal?

  Mr Mans: I think that is probably true, Mrs Dunwoody. I would say it is better value. Better value is not always cheaper but I suspect we could get rid of inefficiencies. May I also agree with Callum Thomas about the environment. I think the CAA will have to take an increasing lead in promoting sustainability within the aviation sector.

  Q414  Chairman: Dr Braithwaite, what are the implications of delegating some of the CAA's safety roles and its inspection work?

  Dr Braithwaite: The first thing is to avoid any sort of capture by the industry. If things are delegated there still needs to be a responsible adult, if you will, and the CAA has played that role very well. The word Authority" in CAA" carries with it great weight and there needs to be some sort of responsible agency in authority. I would say that is one issue.

  Q415  Graham Stringer: Can I follow up on Mr Mans' answer? I think it would be helpful if we got one definition sorted out because it is a word bandied about regularly in aviation which I do not understand. I would be interested in your definition of sustainability" so that we are all clear what we are talking about. Secondly, you say that the CAA will have to be more involved on environmental issues. Why? Are there not an almost infinite number of regulatory bodies, from English Nature and English Heritage to the European Union and local authorities, all of which monitor the standards of air quality, biodiversity, a whole range of environmental issues? Why should the CAA get involved?

  Mr Mans: Let me try to answer the first of your questions, Mr Stringer. I might ask for a bit of assistance from Professor Thomas on my right. As I understand it, you are trying to run a sector in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally successful. In other words, you cannot just run it from an economic point of view or indeed a social point of view. You have to take into account the environmental aspects of what you are doing in order to have a sustainable industry in the long term. Why should the CAA be involved in that? I think it is because it is becoming increasingly central to how the aviation community progresses. I think regulation plays an important role in promoting sustainability and, if you like, at least beginning to change the business model so that when economic decisions are taken they take into account the issue of the environment.

  Professor Thomas: There are a number of different environmental issues that are associated with the air transport industry, some of which are specific to the industry, such as aircraft noise, and others, such as local air quality, where the air quality around an airport can be determined by the aviation industry itself and other industries, such as a motorway passing by or other industries in local proximity. In that situation, where you are dealing with an issue such as aircraft noise which is specific to the air transport industry, one can envisage how the CAA has a specific role. Where you are dealing with other modes of transport, and indeed other industries, there are other regulatory bodies that have an interest and one assumes that the CAA will need to operate with those in order to secure the optimum—

  Chairman: I am not sure that that answers your question.

  Q416  Graham Stringer: It is a very interesting answer because it really means, I think, that you are saying that the CAA should deal just with aviation matters and that all the other issues that are common to other regulatory bodies should be left to those other regulatory bodies, which seems to contradict Mr Mans.

  Professor Thomas: I would have to say immediately that although it may appear that I am saying that I am not an expert. I am an expert on the environmental impact and perhaps not on the regulatory role of the CAA, so I would defer in some elements to Keith Mans in terms of the response that he has given. However, there is obviously an interface between the air transport industry and other industries on the other issues and in respect also to climate change, which is the third major environmental impact of the air transport industry.

  Mr Starkie: I think we need to bear in mind that in terms of environmental standards, noise and emissions from aircraft, those are set at an international level through ICAO and they often lead to very tortuous arguments and negotiations between the Member States and particularly between the United States and the European Union on this. I have a difference from the other panel members. I do not see the CAA getting heavily involved in environmental matters in future basically because of that international perspective and also because I think most environmental issues arise at a local level and are probably better tackled at local level and not by a national body.

  Q417  Mrs Ellman: Is the CAA sufficiently accountable?

  Mr Mans: I think it can be improved. In certain aspects of what they do I think an external audit function by an organisation like the NAO is a good way forward.

  Dr Braithwaite: I tend to agree on that. Some sort of external scrutiny would be good but the accountability should not be spread so much that the industry it is supposed to be regulating is pulling the strings of the CAA. I know there would be big concerns if the industry itself was pushing the CAA to be overly accountable to them as opposed to an independent agency.

  Q418  Mrs Ellman: Do you think that is what is happening at the moment? Would you say that it is overly accountably to the industry?

  Dr Braithwaite: I think there are elements of the industry which can shout rather more loudly than other elements of the industry.

  Q419  Mrs Ellman: What about the Government's requirement for a 6% return on capital? Do you think that is reasonable?

  Mr Mans: Personally I think that is too high. I think it should be self-funding and, as you know, the accounting rules are fairly complicated. One of the reasons for the 6% return is the building of Gatwick, as I understand it, being capitalised. I think a six or 6and a half % return is probably too high and I would say that whilst the Authority needs to be self-funding a return of that sort is probably putting unnecessary burdens on the industry itself.

1   The answer to this question was interrupted and therefore is incomplete and possibly misleading. I have attached an explanatory memorandum (See Ev 166) Back

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