Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Malcolm Bird

  With reference to your consultation on the remit and work of the Civil Aviation Authority I am writing with my views for your consideration. I have grouped my comments according to the issues you are covering in your review:


  There seems to have been good reason to set up the CAA as a central organisation to focus on civil aviation and in many respects it has performed well. However it is worrying that the organisation is able to decide what it will cover, how it will do this and how it will make charges. There seems to be no authority present to validate the approach being adopted and it is all too easy to see that in time the organisation will grow without checks and balances. It seems appropriate to instigate a small permanent independent review body to which those affected by decisions of the CAA can appeal should differences arise.

  It is encouraging that some individuals within the CAA are or have been closely connected with civil aviation in one form or another. It is all too easy to add layers and layers of bureaucracy in the pursuit of safety but with knowledge of the care that the aviation industry conducts itself there may often be simple, low cost ways of achieving the safety goals without widespread legal red-tape. The way the PFA has handled the oversight of home built aircraft is surely an example of this.


  As stated above, it is not necessarily the case that strong regulation equates to greater safety. In general, the aviation industry recognises the risks involved with its work and takes necessary steps to ensure adequate quality. In many cases it can be demonstrated that as regulation gets heavier the results can get worse. Some European states have taken a very highly regulated route and ended up with a small industry that has a poor safety record. On the other hand, the US system has resulted in a thriving industry with a safety record as good if not better than most others.


  As always, the people involved make all the difference. So attracting good people that have a real interest in aviation and a desire to work at making it work effectively over a long period is a necessity. Whereas it is appealing to take on staff from the military it has to be questioned whether their experience and familiarity of military regulation and their short term appointments prior to retirement are really best suited to leading the civil aviation cooperation. Surely it is far better to recruit executive staff with enthusiasm, a commercial understanding and with intent to stay with the corporation for many years. It would also be good to see an approach whereby other organisations, often non-profit making, but usually with a passion and dynamism are used to outsource certain functions that would otherwise be costly for the CAA itself. In these cases the CAA can provide an oversight function (the function that the CAA itself currently lacks).


  Firstly it seems that unnatural pressures are being applied to the CAA regarding its 6% return on capital when the norm in the public sector is only 3.5%. Then, in considering how to achieve its commercial viability the CAA should be able to recognise the ways in which different aviation groups pay or get subsidised for their activities.

  In particular, the airlines are paying no fuel tax or VAT, they can buy aircraft developed with subsidies and in some cases can profit from passenger departure taxes. On the other hand General Aviation pays its full measure of fuel taxes and VAT and trains many of the pilots who move onto airline duties. The overall commercial environment for the aviation communities must be recognised by the CAA and it must be resistant to the continual pressure of the large airlines to improve their finances.

  In answers above, it has been suggested that the CAA should be willing to outsource some of the work it believes necessary. The PFA and BGA are examples but this could be extended with the DVLA perhaps becoming responsible for issuing licences? This can be very cost effective and put the CAA in more of a monitoring role. The CAA should also look to see where agencies of other countries have already carried out work that the CAA is looking to undertake. As long as the other agencies are well respected and with a good safety record there must be ways of preventing duplication of effort. However, the CAA could usefully do novel work that will be of use in the UK and possibly to other foreign agencies. For example, prioritising the certification of UK based design houses and aircraft designs would seem a good way of encouraging British industry and provide a two way flow of approvals between agencies.

  In general, the CAA should keep questioning whether a proposed set of work is really necessary, whether it really adds significantly to safety or is efficient use of time and resources. There are some current rules to do with aerodrome inspections and simulator inspections for example that need to be questioned. Why is it necessary to carry out frequent and costly audits if nothing has changed? Could an aerodrome earn some form of no-change bonus that extends audit periods if there are no changes? Initiatives to reduce the amount of time spent on redundant checks should be prioritised.


  With the work of ICAO, JAR and now EASA there is significant opportunity for a consistent approach to many procedures. This should allow national agencies to share the work load of such things as aircraft certification. This should be a cost effective move. However, we must not come to rely on it. The CAA must play its part, take the initiative and undertake certifications that others have not yet undertaken. Prioritising UK design work would seem appropriate; other national agencies will prioritise their national contributors. The CAA should also be willing to challenge some of the recommendations coming from other national agencies. It is all too easy to keep adding layers of regulation. Each should be challenged to see if the proposal really adds to safety or whether the increased complexity is more likely to confuse and decrease safety as well as cost more than it need do.

  As the industry becomes more international the CAA should really look to resolve some long standing issues within the industry that have been allowed to exist for far too long. For example, it seems quite clear that asking an industry to work in feet, metres, gallons, US gallons, litres, pounds and kilograms is asking for trouble and yet no-one is prepared to tackle the situation. No-one can expect their beloved system of units to last for ever as we move forward, someone has to make it clear which direction we should all be headed, even if the time given to get there is a long one.

  In conclusion, I would like to see an organisation that is rewarded for finding ways of reducing its size and complexity whilst encouraging a safe aviation industry. It should be accountable and have an effective body for the handling of appeals. To do this it will have to look at the different branches of aviation in different ways, each level of the industry has its particular needs. However, the powers that oversee the CAA need to consider the costs and charges in a wider context, looking at where taxes and subsidies are received and given to these branches of the industry to see that, in aggregate, there is equity.

1 November 2005

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