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Next steps for GA regulation

One publication that stood out recently from the usual stream of Skywise notifications was  CAP2146, the CAA’s response document to the consultation on opportunities after leaving EASA (CAP1985). The original consultation was run in December last year and asked wide ranging questions on what the CAA’s focus areas should be in the post-EU environment. Over 950 responses from individuals and groups were received, including several extensive papers from GA associations.

In response the CAA promises a number of initiatives, ranging from three ‘strategic projects’ to 12 ‘changes of ways of working’, as well as other smaller projects and ‘quick win’ activities. Particularly given the pressures of Covid and the work around exiting the EASA system, this is an ambitious programme of work.

So what are some of the highlights from the 46-page document?

The plans are broken down into three groups – group one largely focuses on regulatory issues and how to improve them while groups two and three are more about communication and engagement.

Pilot licensing is an area in which there was apparently a strong appetite for simplification and the CAA identifies this as a strategic project to progress. My own view is that 20 years since JAR-FCL first arrived, followed by EASA and now the ‘retained’ EASA regulation in UK law (not to mention the NPPL arriving along the way too), we have ended up with a collection of several licenses that do similar things. Open a pre-JAR copy of what the CAA used to call the PPL licensing and rating guide (the long defunct CAP53) and the menu of options is considerably smaller. Now removing items from a menu can obviously mean less choice, but the key is to establish what levels of privileges we want to distinguish in the system and scale them accordingly.

Alongside licensing sits a project to look at PPL medical requirements – I suspect some recent confusion around the pilot medical declaration (PMD) criteria needs sweeping up. In my view the basic PMD approach is sound and remains one of the most positive things the CAA has done for GA in the recent past.

Also within ‘group one’ are promises to look at the UK requirements for Instrument Ratings and expanding the scope of national licence holders flying Part-21 (formerly EASA) aircraft. An interesting change in ‘ways of working’ includes a CAA GA Unit ‘Just Culture’ champion being appointed who would be involved in the airspace infringement processes and be a GA point of contact for mandatory occurrence reports (MORs) and alleged breaches of Air Navigation law.

Within the airworthiness domain are promises to review and potentially simplify regulations and introduce a ‘Skyway Code’ type publication for airworthiness. A promising suggestion is looking more at other national aviation authorities (including outside Europe) at their airworthiness requirements. I would sound a note of caution though on overhauling GA maintenance regulations again – a lot of work went into the EASA Part-ML package and sometimes the need to spend more time on bedding in a regulation and helping people understand the requirements is confused with the need to keep revising it.

Moving onto the engagement and collaboration sphere of groups two and three, the main proposal is a ‘diverse and inclusive’ GA ‘Change Panel’ that would presumably be made up of GA experts to collaborate with and scrutinise CAA guidance and policy output. Detail on how this would be constituted and how it might interact with existing engagement mechanisms is likely still under development. If done well such a panel could be an effective part of the policy development process.

A focus running throughout is improving communication and engagement. The word ‘collaboration’ appears around 20 times in the document. It is good that the CAA aspires to do better in this area, although collaboration with external stakeholders is something many organisations struggle with, and improving the quality of such is hard to measure reliably.

There is a risk of the same issues and interests simply being recycled through different forums. Getting balances of skill sets and expertise right is usually more important than the detail of process or organisational design, so I would be wary of setting up lots of new channels of engagement without considering how they improve the quality of input received. Good collaboration should produce better outcomes, but with more involvement of external stakeholders this will likely take up more time. More ‘listening’ is great, but there needs to be time in the day for doing as well. Getting simple, and often boring, things consistently right is just as important when improving outcomes for stakeholders.

Everyone can sign up to the idea of reviewing things, but it is often in the detail that progress stalls, disagreements emerge, or awkward compromises must be made. Sometimes things that sounded great on paper, even within a group of experts, get mixed results in practice. Change fatigue is always a risk. None of the above are real reasons to avoid trying to improve things but starting down such paths requires the right organisational bandwidth and stamina to deliver them at the end.

Overall, CAP2146 is a very positive document. It should represent a good step on the journey towards better regulation of GA, even if at the moment it is mostly a list of areas for further investigation rather than policy proposals. My only note of caution is how the ambitions will be achieved in practice. Timelines may still be vague, but there is plenty to measure delivery against.

More info: CAP2146

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