ECA at the "High Level Group": What Future for European Aviation Regulation?

On 20 March 2007, ECA outlined its vision on how aviation safety can become the driving principle of Europe's aviation regulation and how its key players - EASA, Eurocontrol, the European Commission etc. - can contribute. Crucially, such a safety-enhancement approach needs to encompass all areas of aviation and should not focus solely on Air Traffic Management systems.

The "High Level Group" (HLG) on the Future of Aviation Regulation in Europe was established by the European Commission on a recommendation of a Conference on the same subject, in September 2006. The Group consists of nine "wise men" from different Air Transport Ministries, EASA, Eurocontrol, ACI, IATA, CANSO, Eurocontrol, and Air Navigation Service Providers. It is chaired by the experienced Dutch Director General of Transport, Mrs Jacqueline Tammenoms-Bakker.

ECA had been invited to provide its vision at a hearing of the HLG, together with the four professional staff organisations that represent air traffic controllers, on 20th March 2007. Our Technical Director, Capt Heinz Frühwirth, reiterated the need to urgently move from an unstructured and fragmented current situation towards a clear structure for the future European Aviation Safety regulatory system. ECA stressed that this system needs to be based on global standards established by ICAO. This also means that the European Aviation Safety program needs to encompass all sectors of the industry, not just Air Traffic Management alone.

The presentations of the five professional staff organisations had been coordinated beforehand. Therefore they provided a very consistent view. Pilots and air traffic controllers, as the front end users of the ATM system, play a key role in achieving the safety objectives and need to be included in the design and in any operational review of the system.

As the future aviation system may have to handle three times as many flights as today, radical changes to the roles of current European institutions and the people involved will result. Therefore a solid process of change management is essential to avoid unnecessary resistance - a natural human reaction to change - and to achieve positive acceptance and support for the changes needed.

In a questions and answer session that followed the presentations of the staff representatives, the members of the HLG asked specific questions. This included our views on the SESAR Operational Concept for ATM, Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs), security aspects, the future roles of EASA and Eurocontrol and on Just Culture.

The HLG will have four more meetings and provide their report by the end of June 2007 to Mr Jacques Barrot, the Commissioner for Transport and Vice-President to the European Commission.