Select Committee on Transport Thirteenth Report

8  General aviation


158. The CAA has defined general aviation as including any civil aircraft operation other than a commercial air transport operation, where 'commercial air transport' is defined as an aircraft operation involving the transport of passengers, cargo or mail for remuneration or hire.[245] The GA Alliance told us that the principal sectors of the general aviation industry included sport and recreational aviation, personal transport for business and private purposes, flying training, corporate aviation, aerial work and a wide range of ancillary activities from maintenance to airport services.[246] The CAA has estimated that the sector employs over 11,000 people in the UK and makes a direct economic contribution to the country of £1.4 billion, representing approximately 8% of the economic contribution of UK commercial aviation.[247]

General aviation issues


159. A number of witnesses claimed that the remit and structure of the CAA produced a bias towards the commercial aviation sector. The British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) argued that the Civil Aviation Act 1982 focused overwhelmingly on air transport services, and that it had set the tone for the CAA ever since: "that of looking after large industry."[248] The GA Alliance contended that the single reference to general aviation within the nine page Chairman's Report in the CAA's Annual Review 2005 was evidence of the CAA's lack of concern for general aviation, as was the fact that the CAA Board had no representation from general aviation. It recommended that there should be a specific obligation on the CAA to secure the future, or otherwise protect, general aviation.[249]


160. Despite this perception of a failure to have sufficient regard for general aviation, a number of witnesses argued that the CAA over-regulated the sector. The GA Alliance claimed that requirements which were easy for airlines to adopt, such as carrying safety or navigational equipment which they tended to use as part of their normal business, were much more difficult for general aviation aircraft to adhere to, and therefore had a high cost relative to any potential benefit.[250] The BBGA pointed out that smaller aviation operators in the US have a distinct set of regulations from commercial organisations, and it argued that the one-size-fits-all wording of regulations in the UK frequently caused difficulty for general aviation organisations. Mark Wilson of the BBGA said that, in a risk-based regulatory environment it was correct that the large airlines should receive most attention from the CAA, but that the BBGA had a problem with being "forced to pick up regulation which was clearly designed for others."[251]


161. Several witnesses suggested that general aviation could better be regulated if more of the regulatory functions were delegated or devolved to competent bodies. Keith Mans of the Royal Aeronautical Society said that the CAA should delegate work on aircraft of less than 5,700 kg operated for private, sporting and recreational purposes to appropriate industry bodes or to qualified individuals, arguing that such delegation could improve safety by encouraging more innovative designs. He said the key was that regulation should be proportionate and should focus on "quality assurance, not quality control."[252] The CAA explained to us that it used various regulatory models in relation to general aviation, based on a proportionate approach, ranging from "full", through "devolved", to "self-regulation".[253] It pointed out that the creation of EASA impacted to some extent on its ability to delegate regulation, with EASA's remit encompassing certain airworthiness aspects of glider operations which had previously been unregulated by the CAA. It said, however, that it continued to support greater devolution in respect of non-EASA aircraft, subject to industry competence being available.[254]


162. The GA Alliance told us that most new pilots entering the airline industry were from a self-funded route starting with training within the general aviation sector, and it argued that without a sound base of general aviation in the UK, airlines would be forced to seek pilots from abroad. There were already many instances of flight training organisations moving abroad because the regulatory regime and costs in the UK had become uneconomic and uncompetitive.[255] The BBGA argued that the CAA's handling of flight training was a significant factor in the transfer of training to overseas providers, and that the cost to train a pilot to a commercial level had increased by around 80% in the last five years, with costs to training schools rising at an even faster rate.[256]


163. The GA Alliance remarked that, due to excess demand, many airports were accepting general aviation aircraft only with "swingeing price increases".[257] It argued that the sector was therefore being denied access to airports with facilities, particularly for landing in bad weather, and that pilots were being denied access to adequate training facilities. It contended that the CAA did not take such factors into account when considering applications for expansion by airports.[258] Paul Draper of the GA Alliance told us that general aviation aircraft were also being squeezed out of airspace by the increasing amount of commercial airline traffic, a situation which Martin Robinson of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association lamented, commenting that "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."[259]

The CAA's strategic and regulatory reviews of general aviation

164. Many of the issues raised with us by witnesses were considered as part of the CAA's closely-related strategic and regulatory reviews of general aviation in the UK, published in June and July 2006 respectively.[260] The Strategic Review accepted that increased commercial aviation activity levels had increased the difficulties—and, in some cases, the costs—for general aviation in accessing airspace and airport infrastructure. The report found that most pilots and many engineers came into commercial aviation via general aviation, but it warned that the supply of labour to the aviation sector could become tighter in the future. There were fewer engineers coming into the industry and there was some evidence that general aviation was not producing the numbers of pilots that it previously had. The report suggested that increased demand from growing economies such as China and India might represent "something of a structural shift", and it said that it was likely that the UK general aviation sector would need to play a part in ensuring sufficiency of future labour supply.[261]

165. In the light of its findings, the report called for the Government to consider making a policy statement on the value of maintaining a viable network of general aviation airfields and to revise the CAA's statutory objectives to remove any suggestion of bias toward commercial transport over general aviation. The report claimed that more effective dialogue between the general aviation community, the CAA and Government would help to improve policy and regulation affecting the sector, and it noted that all parties had lessons to learn. To this end, it recommended the designation of individuals within the CAA and Government as general aviation "focal points", as well as the establishment of a quarterly forum.[262]

166. The Regulatory Review found that the CAA went further than other national aviation authorities in devolving tasks to separate organisations and said that there appeared to be scope for further delegation to the general aviation community in some certification areas for non-EASA aircraft. The report recommended that the list of general aviation consultative fora, their participants and terms of reference should be placed on the CAA website, and made a number of further recommendations in relation to the collection and use of general aviation fatal accident statistics.[263]

167. We heard a wide range of concerns raised by members of the general aviation community in relation to over-regulation by the CAA and bias towards the commercial aviation sector. We therefore welcome the completion and publication by the CAA of both its Strategic Review of General Aviation in the UK and its Regulatory Review of General Aviation in the UK, and we support the recommendations they make. It is particularly important that efforts are made to improve dialogue between the general aviation community and the CAA, in order to ensure that the concerns of the general aviation community are incorporated into the CAA's regulatory work. In addition the transparency of the CAA's consultations should be improved, in order to lessen perceptions among the general aviation community of bias towards the commercial aviation sector. We are concerned to note the findings of the CAA's Strategic Review in relation to future potential skilled labour shortages in aviation, and we urge the Government and the CAA to work with the general aviation sector to help it continue to contribute to future skilled labour supply.

245   Civil Aviation Authority, Regulatory Review of General Aviation in the United Kingdom: Terms of Reference, November 2005, para 1.2 Back

246   Ev 128, section A Back

247   Civil Aviation Authority, Strategic Review of General Aviation in the UK, July 2006, paras 7-8 Back

248   Ev 132 Back

249   Ev 128, sections B1a-B1b Back

250   Ev 128, section B1c Back

251   Ev 132; Q 380 Back

252   Ev 148, para 4.4.2; Q 426 Back

253   Ev 39, Q 28 Back

254   IbidBack

255   Ev 128, section B2 Back

256   Ev 132 Back

257   Ev 128, section B2 Back

258   Ev 128, section B2 Back

259   Qq 380, 402 Back

260   Civil Aviation Authority, Regulatory Review of General Aviation in the UK, June 2006; Civil Aviation Authority, Strategic Review of General Aviation in the UK, July 2006 Back

261   Civil Aviation Authority, Strategic Review of General Aviation in the UK, July 2006, paras 9-11, 18, 20 Back

262   Civil Aviation Authority, Strategic Review of General Aviation in the UK, July 2006, Summary of Recommendations; para 21 Back

263   Civil Aviation Authority, Regulatory Review of General Aviation in the UK, June 2006, paras 1.3, 1.4.3, 1.5, 1.7.2 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 8 November 2006