Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)


25 JANUARY 2006

  Q420  Mrs Ellman: Dr Braithwaite, you seemed to be implying that you thought the CAA was more accountable to some partners than to others. Do you have any examples of that?

  Dr Braithwaite: Certainly in terms of the funding that is going to the CAA there are parts of the industry paying a lot more in and therefore expecting a lot more out. That is not necessarily the same as the levels of risk. For example, the general aviation industry, whilst it may be paying what it perceives to be high fees individually, is paying rather less overall than perhaps some of the major carriers might be paying and therefore there are clearly different views as to where the money should be spent by the CAA on development.

  Q421  Mrs Ellman: Do you think that general aviation gets a rough deal from the CAA? Does anybody have any views on that?

  Mr Mans: I would probably say, yes, on balance, and our evidence is along those lines. I think it is true to say that general aviation in the past has been very much the Cinderella" of the aerospace and aviation community. I think in the future it is going to play a rather more central role, particularly in the training of both engineer technicians and aircrew, and therefore it has a bigger role to play and I think it needs to be treated a little more fairly by the CAA in the future. I am not saying that what they have done in the past is necessarily wrong; I am just saying the nature of the beast is changing, and I think the deal that general aviation gets is not a brilliant one. Dr Braithwaite pointed out some of the fairly loud voices in the aviation community and I do not think many of those are in general aviation. I think there is a case to be made because a lot of the people who end up in the airlines and who end up generally in commercial aviation will increasingly start life in general aviation, so from that point of view I think it needs to be nurtured in this country more than it has been in the past by the CAA. We want to move towards an America or possibly an Australian model where General Aviation is encouraged rather than stepped on too heavily in terms of regulation.

  Q422  Mrs Ellman: What are the main challenges being faced by the CAA Safety Regulation Group? Dr Braithwaite, do you have any thoughts on that?

  Dr Braithwaite: I would say the overwhelming challenge at the moment is the uncertainty with the rise of EASA and knowing what its function will be as the European Aviation Safety Agency takes over more of a role, so I would say during that time of uncertainty it is not only in terms of their human resources and whether people will want to stay working for an organisation that is starting to evaporate, but also making sure that EASA is up and running and capable to take over the role that the Safety Regulation Group appears to have done very well.

  Q423  Mrs Ellman: How do you perceive the state of the European Aviation Safety Agency at the moment? Do you think it is effective?

  Dr Braithwaite: I think it is enthusiastic and optimistic but not necessarily fully capable and able to do all of the roles that are expected of it. They have got a big task to take over and whether they are spinning up as fast as some of the regulatory agencies are spinning down is something that needs to be watched.

  Q424  Mrs Ellman: You have said that there is a need for active regulation". Could you tell us what you mean by that?

  Dr Braithwaite: By active regulation I mean that a regulator needs to be able to be responsive to respond to events and concerns that arise, that it also needs to have the capacity to be proactive to look at what the future challenges are going to be and try and understand those before they start to cause incidents and accidents. That is really what I mean by active regulation.

  Q425  Mrs Ellman: Is that the same as light touch" regulation?

  Dr Braithwaite: In my opinion, no, it is not. The inference of light touch regulation suggests that self-regulation rises to the fore and I would have some concerns about that in safety regulation.

  Q426  Mrs Ellman: Are there any general concerns that the move to light touch regulation will have an impact on safety standards?

  Mr Mans: It should not is the answer to that, in my view. Indeed, you could argue that light touch could actually promote safety because it encourages more innovative designs, particularly of light aircraft, and as a result hopefully safer designs as well. I think the key about light touch regulation is that it is proportionate to the risk and it is quality assurance, not quality control. Those are the two phrases that I would use to describe good light touch regulation.

  Q427  Mr Leech: Are you aware that BALPA take a very different view to that? We had Mervyn Grimshaw here in front of us and he took totally the opposite view. Have you got any comments on BALPA's comments to our Committee?

  Mr Mans: Yes, I think it is horses for courses. If we are talking about the regulation—

  Q428  Chairman: Pilots for planes I think in this sense, Mr Mans!

  Mr Mans: Yes, you are absolutely right! If we are talking about the regulation of commercial operations/airline operations, I think I probably have more agreement with Mervyn over that, but when we are talking about the regulation of general aviation I think there is a role to play in delegation and a lighter touch. As I say, I stick to the phrases I used about proportionate to the risk and it is quality assurance rather than quality control. This is not an alien concept to many other aspects. The engineering industry in Britain operates on that principle.

  Q429  Chairman: Can we just ask Dr Braithwaite about this because you did say that the CAA were not going to be able to keep up with the regulatory approval of safety-critical equipment because it is running down its operations as it runs into EASA. How many examples of that have you got?

  Dr Braithwaite: I can think of several where operators have wanted to import aircraft into this country and it has arrived with equipment fitted which the CAA is not yet able to certify as being safe to fly, an example being an enhanced ground proximity warning system on a particular aircraft which was not yet approved and was effectively taken out of action because of that. That is not an implied criticism of the CAA but people are wanting to improve their own safety for all sorts of reasons and we need a regulator that can keep up.

  Q430  Chairman: So would that be helped by what Mr Mans is suggesting?

  Dr Braithwaite: It may in part. I get the impression that Mr Mans' interpretation of light touch regulation is more around the risk-based approach to regulation, which does make sense, but I think we also need to recognise that if we ease off on our style of regulation the effect it is likely to have on any future incident or accident may take a number of years to actually eventuate.

  Q431  Mr Leech: I was going to follow on from asking Mr Mans to ask whether you accept that there may be an argument for more active regulation, in the words of Dr Braithwaite, in the commercial sector as opposed to the general aviation sector?

  Mr Mans: Absolutely right. I think the key to good regulation is that the people doing it have got the experience and the knowledge to carry it out, and if a lot of that experience and knowledge resides in, say, the individual governing bodies of a particular part of aviation, like the Popular Flying Association or the British Gliding Association, then there is a good case for saying that they should be the main body that regulates that sector. Where I think you get bad regulation is where you have the people actually doing the regulating not being as competent as they might be and therefore they are actually trying to regulate people who probably know a bit more about the subject than they do. I think that is one of the issues about EASA. I think we do have a situation now, or will do very soon, where the people doing the regulating in Cologne will not necessarily have the sufficient knowledge and experience to maintain the present safety standards that we have at the moment, particularly when a lot of the people doing those tasks in the CAA in the past will not be there very much longer in the future.

  Q432  Mr Leech: So how would you deal with that because at the moment EASA are paying the CAA to do a lot of the work? You do not expect that to continue then?

  Mr Mans: No what I think, Mr Leech, is that EASA has to take a step back and start looking at the activities for which it is already responsible and do them better before it takes on new responsibilities and that we have, if you like, a longer handover period so that the experience and knowledge of people at the CAA is not lost before the task is fully up and running with EASA.

  Chairman: Mr Efford?

  Q433  Clive Efford: Dr Braithwaite, you have touched on EASA but we have heard from the CAA that EASA is not yet fit for purpose. Do you agree with that?

  Dr Braithwaite: I think that is quite a strong statement but certainly it is an agency which does not necessarily have the same levels of expertise and experience that the authorities it is replacing have, so whilst certainly the intent and the idea of EASA is a very good one, whether it has managed to reach its recruitment targets and whether it has managed to establish a credible level of experience and training, I would have my doubts.

  Chairman: So that is yes, only longer!

  Clive Efford: You took the words right out of my mouth!

  Chairman: Sorry!

  Q434  Clive Efford: So what needs to be done to overcome these problems, in your view?

  Dr Braithwaite: I think we need to look at what we have currently in the UK, what the CAA has done for us and the investment that has been established in the knowledge and skills and so on which Mr Mans was just talking about and make sure we do not lose that. One of the things we can do is to try and remove some of the doubts within CAA employees and potential CAA employees that there will be a job and that there will be an Authority in the future and that it is not just going to keep disappearing across to Cologne which is not yet able to do the jobs that it is taking over.

  Q435  Clive Efford: Do I take it from your answer that what you are saying is the CAA should continue to function at its current level and not scale down any of its operations in anticipation of EASA until such time as EASA has proved that it can perform?

  Dr Braithwaite: Not scale down in anticipation but scale down only when the capability is there.

  Q436  Clive Efford: Do you believe that the creation of EASA and its proposed remit is a good idea in principle?

  Dr Braithwaite: In principle it is a good idea. If it leads to harmonisation at the higher levels across Europe then that is a good thing. If it leads to harmonisation at the average across Europe then that will be a bad thing for the UK.

  Q437  Clive Efford: Could you paint a picture for us and give us an example of where EASA practically will fill a void that is in the regulation of the industry?

  Dr Braithwaite: I think in terms of communication there is the example of findings from an accident investigation body such as the AIB in the UK which fed into a European agency could then benefit the whole of Europe rather more rapidly than it could by going through the CAA and then being passed on to other agencies, so there are some benefits there in spreading the good lessons and learning from issues.

  Q438  Clive Efford: Right. EASA has been very complimentary about the CAA in evidence to us. Does this evident respect feed through into the regulatory policies developed by EASA?

  Dr Braithwaite: I am not sure I have an answer for that.

  Q439  Clive Efford: Do you think the CAA could do more to influence EASA's policies?

  Dr Braithwaite: I think the CAA is trying very hard. It is a bit of an uphill battle, I think.

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