CAA Tells Bizav: Talk To Us


LONDON—The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority’s message to the business aviation community is simple: please engage.

In two presentations to the British Business and General Aviation Association’s (BBGA) conference, held online last week, senior CAA staffers emphasized that the regulator can only help when it knows what the problems are. 

Today’s challenges may mostly be grouped around post-COVID-19 recovery efforts and the new operational realities facing both British and European business aviation entities following the UK’s departure from the European Union. But the CAA has a vital role to play in shaping the future of the British aerospace environment—and can only be sure it is heading in the right direction if people in the industry form part of that process. 

“We are only successful if we are engaged, building our understanding, and communicating,” said the CAA’s chair, Sir Stephen Hillier. “I give you my personal pledge that I will do all I can to promote that while I’m chair of the CAA.”

In a wide-ranging presentation examining both his institutional and personal priorities, Hillier repeatedly stressed that the CAA would not pursue an arm’s-length relationship with the sector. Comments are encouraged, whether positive or otherwise. 

“We have to be a listening organization, and we have to be a learning organization as well,” he said. “You don’t necessarily make everybody happy. That’s not the regulator’s role. The regulator’s role is to do the right thing, and to do it in a consistent, predictable and informed way, based on evidence. That doesn’t necessarily make you popular with everybody that the decisions go against.

“Related to that is that it can be quite difficult to consult, and to understand what is the overall sense to gain,” he continued. “On any given issue there is such a range of perspectives, and it’s very hard to ensure that you are talking to the right representative of that sector as a whole. That’s not a plea for sympathy. This is our job, to work it through. [But] we can only be effective if we are informed and understand. So I want people to engage with us. I want people to raise issues.”

The UK’s departure from the EU, in particular, has helped open these communication channels between the business aviation sector and the regulator. David Kendrick, the CAA’s head of airline licensing, highlighted regular meetings that have been taking place between the Authority and associations, such as BBGA, representing the sector. 

“We’ve tried hard, through [BBGA] and others, to provide a conduit, particularly during the buildup to exit [Brexit] over the last two or three years,” he said. “We proactively arranged business forums across all the sectors so we can gather views and take them away. One of the things we’re keen to ensure is that everybody actually has a voice. We may not agree with it, we may not be in a position to take it forward, but we will listen to everybody with respect, and we take it to the wider group in the Authority so that we can actually come up with a collective view.”

The issues surrounding post-Brexit permits for ad hoc flight operations also highlight areas where, as Hillier suggested, the CAA and users may not be in lockstep alignment. The CAA’s position—of issuing block permits to EU-based operators in the hope and expectation that other EU nations will offer the same to British firms seeking to fly between the UK and Europe—has attracted criticism. 

Nevertheless, the regulator is eager to hear from operators facing difficulties, and also from those who are enjoying successes. All such inputs will help the CAA in defining the art of the possible. 

This is of particular importance in the many bilateral discussions the CAA is having with its equivalents in the 27 EU nations. Kendrick encouraged conference delegates to challenge the CAA with operational examples, even where regulatory complexity may appear to be a barrier. By doing so, he said, companies can help shape the future operational environment. 

“One of the areas that we think has been a particular benefit is being able to go into the room with good examples of situations where things have gone well, and where there may have been problems,” he said. “That allows us to test the conversations around flexibility. So when people [in other EU nations] say to us: ‘We have a very flexible system,’ we say: ‘You might have a flexible system, but are you aware of this occasion when it wasn’t quite so flexible? What can we do to improve this?’ That is incredibly powerful. If you go into the room with good data, it allows you to drive the outcomes you’re seeking to achieve.”

Angus Batey

Angus Batey has been contributing to various titles within the Aviation Week Network since 2009, reporting on topics ranging from defense and space to business aviation, advanced air mobility and cybersecurity.