Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the General Aviation Awareness Council


  1.  The General Aviation Awareness Council (GAAC) is the body that oversees the matters that are of concern to all sectors of General Aviation (GA). The Council concentrates its efforts on matters concerned with planning and education in the widest sense. Some 60 aviation associations and other bodies are members of the Council.

  2.  The Council evolved from a campaign launched in 1991 to counter the wealth of anti-GA publicity that was gaining momentum at the time. It was apparent then—and this is equally true today—that the lack of any coordinated approach to major issues such as Government policy towards aviation and planning was resulting in the anti-GA lobby being increasingly successful in promoting its aims.

  3.  The Objectives were then and remain:

    —  to EXPLAIN the nature of the GA Industry;

    —  to PROMOTE its purpose and value; and

    —  to PROTECT its facilities (eg aerodromes and airspace).

  The emphasis has shifted increasingly to the protection of its facilities as the pressure on GA aerodromes has increased with the expansion of the Commercial Aviation sector and Government housing and wind turbine development policy.

  4.  GA embraces a wide variety of activities ranging from flying training to business aviation, recreational aviation and model aircraft flying. To place GA in perspective, the commercial airlines in the UK operate about 1,000 aircraft and use some 30 airports. The UK GA fleet comprises more than 15,000 aircraft that operate from 140 licensed airports and aerodromes and more than 350 private airstrips. More than 70% of all GA activity is understood to have some business or safety purpose. In contrast, figures have indicated in the past that more than 85% of all seats sold by airlines are for pleasure purposes. With the growth of low cost airlines and the decline in business travel this figure may now be higher.


  The investigation by the Transport Select Committee is welcomed and is justified on major matters. However the General Aviation Industry is faced with a monopoly in the CAA and has only the clumsy and expensive redress to a judicial review in the event that regulation is imposed that may be considered inappropriate. To illustrate the problems encountered we would advise your committee that over 3,000 regulations were removed at the stroke of a pen when EASA assumed responsibility. There have been no subsequent safety issues which suggests many overly zealous and costly regulations were unnecessary. We recommend that a mandatory arbitration or mediation procedure be set up under a suitable and independent review body to improve the relationship between the Regulator and the Regulated.


  The most important message of this submission is that the UK is lacking and needs a unified national policy on aerodromes and airspace. The CAA, as well as Central Government, has a role in ensuring this. This theme underlies all the comments that follow. The CAA has to recognise that GA aerodromes and airspace are an essential element of the UK's national transport, business and leisure infrastructure.

  A national planning policy for transport should recognise the value of a network of GA aerodromes. Planning applications for new sites and the enhancement of existing facilities should be supported directly by both Central Government and the CAA. This support has been absent to date.


  The CAA has transferred their responsibility for safeguarding GA aerodromes to Local Authorities (LAs) and this has caused considerable problems. Many applications for safeguarding have been rejected because LAs do not understand the subject and in one case the LA has stated that it was too busy to become involved in safeguarding matters. The most obvious solution would be to return responsibility to the CAA, particularly with the increasing number of wind farm proposals and their effect on adjacent flying sites. This is a safety issue and the only body that has the expertise to address it is the CAA. We would refer the committee to ODPM and DfT and NAFW Circular 01/2003 dated 27 January 2003 in Annex 1 of which, inter alia, there is specific mention that Wind Turbine Development ... can create certain problems for aviation". Indeed, an application for a wind farm that will generate more than 50kw by-passes even the normal planning process through the local authority and the decision is made directly by the DTI which further reduces the scope for objections.


  The exclusion of GA, particularly flying training, activity from some airports and the absence of alternative sites gives rise to major problems so far as the supply of UK trained commercial pilots is concerned. Measures used to discourage GA include the reduction of the number of flying training operators permitted at a particular location and the raising of landing charges to such an extent that continued operation is no longer commercially viable. It is essential that as such operations are displaced the CAA should be required to support applications to establish alternative training facilities. To date they have refused to become involved. Ministerial statements that We will seek to continue to support general aviation..." (House of Lords, 27 February 2001) are helpful, but the CAA should be required to support Government policy in this respect by supporting planning applications for new and extended GA facilities. The provision of GA facilities, particularly for pilot training, is a national problem.

  The importance of having sufficient flying training facilities is emphasised by a recent survey that stated that 86% of commercial pilots come from the self improver route. While some major airlines claim that they are not dependent on GA for their supply, this is because they tend to recruit their crews from the smaller airlines. GA trained pilots will usually commence their professional careers with such smaller airlines so the linkages with major airlines are direct. If the supply of UK trained pilots is considered important then more consideration must be given to the provision of alternative sites as GA becomes excluded from sites from which they have previously been operating.

  One solution to the shortage of flying training facilities would be to permit flying training from unlicensed aerodromes. There are many considerations that have to be taken into account when making such a major change, as is evidenced by the lack of success in attempts to reduce some of the more stringent requirements for licensed aerodromes. However given appropriate standards regarding operation and safety this is an option that has to be considered.


  GA generally requires the maximum amount of unrestricted airspace. Any proposals to increase controlled airspace have therefore to take into account the needs of GA. Currently this aspect of GA operation is handled satisfactorily through NATMAC. It is essential that GA continues to be represented on bodies concerned with airspace allocation and classification. The CAA should recognize the needs of GA in its approach to airspace policy.


  The new SRG Scheme of Charges, which bears heavily on GA, has been commented upon both by the GAAC and individual member associations who have responded directly to the CAA. The GAAC holds the strong view that it would be entirely inappropriate to introduce such major changes in charges before the completion of the Strategic Review. We therefore advocate that implementation of these charges should be delayed until the impact on GA has been revisited by the current CAA initiated Strategic Review of GA.


  The CAA publishes details of aircraft movements by aerodrome for some 60 licensed aerodromes. This is hardly sufficient to monitor the use of GA aerodromes. Extension of the coverage to include all licensed aerodromes, possibly in less detail than for those for which data are currently collected, would greatly enhance the ability to monitor developments.

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