Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by R E J Dawson and M L Burlyn


  In response to the Transport Committee's inquiry into the remit and work of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), as civilian air traffic control officers we should like to offer the following submission concerning the areas to be examined by the Committee.

  We wish to stress that our comments are a personal view arising from a combined total of over 65 years of working in the UK air traffic services industry and should not be taken as representing the view(s) of any employer or other organisation with which we may be associated.

  Our comments are necessarily, confined to those areas in which we believe we have the requisite knowledge to enable objective comment to be made and are therefore, largely reference matters relating to air traffic services (ATS).


  We believe that the remit of the CAA, in particular its combined responsibilities of economic regulation, airspace regulation and safety regulation whilst originally complimentary, are now mutually incompatible.

1.1  Economic and Safety Regulation

  Whilst the original Edwards Committee concept for the CAA may have been generally speaking, appropriate in the early 1970s prior to ATS providers' privatisation and semi-privatisation, we believe that it is now inappropriate for the CAA to play a combined role of economic regulator and safety regulator since these are not necessarily, fully compatible. We would draw attention to the recent CAA firm" proposals for the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) Charging Period 2 (CP2) covering the period 2006-10 to modify the price control conditions for the regulation of NATS' en-route business for this period of next five years.

  Some respondents expressed concern about the possible effect of the CAA's proposed service quality incentive on safety but the CAA's response (broadly in line with NATS and the responding airlines) was that it is satisfied that there will not be any compromise to the maintenance of high levels of safety and that in its view, the proposed financial incentive will encourage" NATS to provide staff and other resources at peak times or to alleviate particular bottlenecks. We would question the basis for the CAA's conclusions given that presumably it consulted internally with its Safety Regulation Group and did not utilise any independent outside" specialist risk-assessment organisation to undertake an in-depth hazard analysis of this particular safety issue.

  We are also aware of the proposals arising from the recent CAA review of ATS Outside Controlled Airspace (ATSOCAS) and the suggestion that NATS should be required to provide Radar Advisory Service (RAS) on-demand. This despite the Lower Airspace Radar Service (LARS) element of ATSOCAS—currently funded by way of a rebate of Eurocontrol Navigation Charges totalling £1.6 million annually—which according to the UK Department for Transport would cost around £7 million to provide.

1.2  Airspace and Safety Regulation

  The part-privatisation of NATS, because of the possibility of a conflict of interest, quite properly in our view, required the responsibility for airspace regulation (as opposed to airspace management) to be transferred away from NATS to the CAA where it now sits. However, we are aware of conflicts of interest now arising within the CAA itself whereby the ATS inspectorate has on at least one occasion during the last 18 months recommended to an airport situated outside the formal controlled airspace structure that it should apply for controlled airspace in order to afford greater protection for the public transport flights operating at that airport, yet the CAA's Directorate of Airspace Policy (operating in line with directives from the DfT) indicated that the airport in question did not qualify for such airspace because of the level of flight activity at the time.

  Please see our additional comments in Section 3.

1.3  Provision of Adequate Resources

  We believe that the current arrangement for funding the CAA whereby it is wholly funded by the civil aviation industry is increasingly unviable at a time when there is continuous and mounting pressure on industry and therefore, the CAA, to reduce operating costs. We consider it inappropriate that the industry safety regulator should be subjected to such intense cost cutting pressures at a time when arguably—because of the exponential rise in flights (expected to increase by around 3.6% annually until at least 2008)—it should be in a position to increase its monitoring activities and safety oversight functions.

  These financial imperatives have also made it increasingly difficult for the CAA in both its safety regulatory and airspace regulatory divisions to recruit and retain adequate numbers of appropriately experienced and skilled air traffic controller staff. Whilst previously, the CAA was able to rely on the secondment of such staff from NATS, such an arrangement is now inappropriate given NATS' status and the European requirement to separate service provision from regulation; therefore, this source of expertise is now unavailable. Retirements and resignations have exacerbated the CAA's staffing situation, which has also led to a lack of transparency to outside organisations as to the identity and contact availability of some individual post holders.

  The result—particularly within the Directorate of Airspace Policy—has been that an increasing number of former military air traffic control staff have been employed in key positions and roles. Whilst such staff are unquestionably highly skilled and have extensive experience in their military air traffic services field, they are naturally, lacking in experience with regard to civil air traffic services and particularly civil ATS provision which now in the UK, is delivered predominately on a commercially-orientated basis with the attendant pressures and drivers.


  2.1  At the 1999 Maastricht ATC Conference the CAA's previous Chairman, Sir Malcolm Field stated that the previous laissez-faire" attitude of ATS safety regulation would be changed and that he expected the CAA to become the champion of the travelling public, commenting that ...."the days of the cosy world of self regulation are numbered."

  We believe that this ethos is even more important as external commercial pressures both on and from ATS providers are nowadays, becoming more prevalent.

  2.2  The movement towards a more lighter touch" as emphasised in the new proposed Government Bill for Better Regulation," could we believe, inadvertently lead to an increased risk for the safety of the travelling public which we consider unacceptable.

  It is therefore, essential that safety-critical areas of regulation are not subjected to cost cutting with the result that the CAA abdicates its responsibilities to the service providers.


  The effectiveness and efficiency is directly related to the CAA's ability to recruit staff having the highest credentials and credibility within the industry.

  In 1999, the Transport Committee identified the need for the CAA to obtain the best quality of applicant for vacancies from as large a number of applicants as possible. However, little appears to have changed, with the resulting unfilled positions requiring remaining staff to carry an ever-increasing workload.

  This situation is unacceptable and if the CAA is to retain its position as a centre of excellence" offering blue-chip" experience and expertise, remedial action is required as a matter of urgency.


4.1  Airspace and Safety Regulation

  Whilst we do not wish to pre-judge the outcome of the recent review of ATSOCAS, we believe that the CAA's safety-related assumptions and judgements in respect of public transport flights operating outside controlled airspace are fundamentally flawed.

  The position taken by the CAA is that LARS and specifically RAS provides the necessary Target Level of Safety (TLS) to all flights, including public transport flights, operating outside the UK controlled airspace structure. However, the CAA to-date, has repeatedly failed to state what TLS it considers acceptable or appropriate for such flights and we therefore, question how the CAA can make any judgement in this regard without comparing quantitive and qualitative data against a predetermined benchmark. The CAA should identify through its own Safety Management System (SMS) process what level is acceptable.

  We would draw attention to the TLS previously sought by NATS in respect of safety significant events of 1<100,000 flights and would question whether this might be considered an appropriate benchmark by the CAA.

4.2  Safety Oversight

  The effective safety regulation of ATS providers being undertaken by the CAA being of a non-prescriptive" nature accords with the pan-European move towards SMS with ATS providers then taking responsibility for their own quality and safety management processes which can be audited by the safety regulator. Whilst this arrangement is entirely adequate for a large well-organised ATS provider such as NATS which has the necessary levels of appropriately skilled and qualified staff and a well-developed, effective SMS, we question whether the CAA's policy is likely to prove wholly effective in respect of the many smaller ATS providers operating within the UK who may lack the necessary skills and resources to undertake this level of self-regulation. In our judgement, this is a particular difficulty for the UK in that other states participating in the Single European Sky initiative do not have a multitude of private and semi-private ATS providers delivering civil ATS, such as the case in the UK. We would question what areas in this regard, the CAA's own SMS process identified as being of concern.

  In our view, this situation combined with the need to provide adequate resources (as referenced in paragraph 2.3) presents a major challenge for the CAA and risks creating a situation not dissimilar to that which obtained within Railtrack prior to that company's demise.


  The main effect is the degree of uncertainty that the newly formed European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will have on both the standards currently in place in the UK and the effect of location changes for existing staff.

  As EASA will be given the power to impose standards European-wide we believe it is essential that this common standard does not dumb down" the current standards, which the CAA has established in the UK and it is essential that the CAA's role and responsibility as a National Supervising Authority is clearly defined both now and in the future.

  It is equally essential that the CAA demonstrates to EASA through its own Quality Assurance System and SMS processes, the necessity to maintain the highest possible standards of safety for the travelling public.


  In respect of the UK air traffic services industry, we believe that the structure and role of the CAA as envisaged by the Edwards Committee has failed to keep pace with the changes that have taken place within that industry.

  In consequence, we feel that the following changes should be implemented in order to ensure that the CAA is enabled to maintain its role of industry safety regulator acting primarily on behalf of the travelling public and fulfilling the concept outlined by its previous Chairman, Sir Malcolm Field.

    —  Remove all economic regulatory functions of the CAA and place these within a separate Government department.

    —  Modify the funding arrangements for the CAA whereby it is in part, funded from general taxation and so is enabled to (a) recruit adequate numbers of appropriately-qualified civil air traffic controllers who have the necessary civil ATS experience and (b) provide the necessary level of safety oversight pro-activity, where this is deemed appropriate.

    —  Require the CAA to change its priorities in respect of airspace regulation whereby it is directed to consider primarily, safety issues followed by equitability of access issues.

    —  Direct the CAA to publish a Target Level of Safety for public transport flights operating outside controlled airspace together with methodology to measure the operating safety of such flights.

    —  Transfer from the CAA, responsibility for consideration of environmental issues relating to airspace management, to a separate Government department.

    —  Ensure that all CAA senior management post-holders have the relevant civil industry experience for the departments they are required to manage.

  We would be pleased to elaborate on our submission by giving oral evidence to the Transport Committee if desired.

November 2005

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