Select Committee on Transport Thirteenth Report

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the independent regulator for civil aviation in the UK. It was set up in 1972 as a public corporation responsible for:

In addition, the CAA advises the Government on aviation issues, produces statistical data and provides specialist services.[1] The specific objectives and functions of the CAA are set out in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, the Airports Act 1986, the Transport Act 2000 and the directions given under section 66 of the Transport Act 2000.[2]

2. In October 2005, we announced that we intended to undertake an inquiry into the work of the CAA.[3] We sought to consider the full scope of the CAA's operations other than its involvement in the financial protection of air travellers—which we had previously looked at.[4] More specifically, we intended to consider:

  • the remit, structure and powers of the CAA;
  • the performance of the CAA in relation to its statutory objectives and functions;
  • the effectiveness and efficiency of the CAA's regulatory framework;
  • the effectiveness and efficiency of the CAA in the general discharge of its duties; and
  • the effect of growing international and European Union co-operation on the work of the CAA.

We received memoranda from 64 organisations and individuals and a list of those giving oral evidence is provided on page 68. We are grateful for the assistance provided throughout this inquiry by the Scrutiny Unit and by our specialist advisers: Mr Peter Morrell, Director of Research at Cranfield University's School of Engineering, and Mr Peter Vass, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bath's School of Management.

3. The civil aviation sector has grown substantially in size since the establishment of the CAA: between 1972 and 2005, the number of civil air traffic movements at UK airports increased from 0.7 million to 2.3 million, while the number of passengers travelling to and from UK airports rose from 57 million to 228 million.[5] The remit of the CAA has also changed somewhat in recent years, particularly following the privatisation and separation from the CAA of National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in 2001 and the establishment of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2003. The Government's recent Air Transport White Paper also has significant implications for aviation.[6]

4. The Sponsorship Statement for the CAA, first formulated in 2002, includes a duty for the Department for Transport and the CAA to review critically the CAA at unspecified intervals to examine the continuing need for the CAA's regulatory activity and the extent to which its functions, could be more effectively undertaken in other ways, as well as considering the efficiency and effectiveness with which the CAA carries out its functions and uses its resources.[7] We were unable to identify such a critical review having ever taken place. The Chairman of the CAA, Sir Roy McNulty, explained to us that, while the CAA undertook an annual review process, a more in-depth consideration of whether its statutory framework remained appropriate had not been embarked upon.[8] We were further told by the Department that, while a strategic review of the CAA's role might happen in time, particularly in reaction to the current change in the regulatory framework in the EU, it had no specific plans to undertake this in the immediate future.[9]

5. The aviation sector has undergone significant changes since the creation of the CAA, but there have been few adjustments to the CAA's framework. The Government has been negligent in its failure to undertake strategic reviews of the role, remit and objectives of the CAA as required by the Sponsorship Statement. We recommend that the Department for Transport carry out a root and branch review to examine the continuing need for the CAA and the extent to which its functions could be more effectively undertaken in other ways. We expect the Department to carry out a similar review at least once every ten years.

6. While operating generally well against its remit, our inquiry identified a number of challenges for the CAA resulting from the ongoing development of the UK aviation sector. The CAA must modify its role and its structure due to the transfer of responsibilities to EASA, for example. However, the present inability of EASA to satisfactorily undertake many of these responsibilities complicates the situation and makes it vital that the CAA does not relinquish control of any aspect of safety regulation in the UK prior to EASA achieving a suitable standard of operability. In addition, the overall expansion in the market means that the CAA must serve, communicate with and be accountable to, an increasing number of regulated organisations and interested parties. In particular, the CAA faces growing calls to give regard to the concerns of the general aviation sector and environmental groups.

1   Corporate information, Back

2   Department for Transport, Sponsorship Statement for the Civil Aviation Authority, para 2.1 Back

3   "The work of the Civil Aviation Authority", Transport Committee press release, Press Notice 9 Session 2005-06, 13 October 2005 Back

4   See Transport Committee, Second Report of Session 2005-06, Financial Protection for Air Travellers: Second Report Abandoning Effective Protection, HC 636. Back

5   Department for Transport, Transport Statistics: Great Britain 2004, Table 2.1; Civil Aviation Authority, UK Airport Statistics 2005, Tables 2.3 & 13.2 Back

6   The Government's White Paper, The Future of Air Transport, published in December 2003, set out a strategic framework for the development of airport capacity in the UK over the next 30 years, designed to inform decisions on future planning applications. Commitments in the White Paper to sustainable aviation and the protection of passenger interests, were included in the Civil Aviation Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 9 June 2005.  Back

7   Department for Transport, Sponsorship Statement for the Civil Aviation Authority, para 6.4 Back

8   Q 5 Back

9   Q 590 Back

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