The New EASA - To Be or Not to Be?

In 2005, when the Commission tabled its proposal for extending EASA's competences to make it a strong central safety body, the pilot community put great hopes in that project. Now that the legislative "co-decision" process is advancing, there are doubts as to whether the co-legislators - the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament - really want a strong safety agency. In particular, the national authorities seem not to be ready to give away too many powers too soon. In the end, the main loser might be Europe's aviation safety!

It is against this background that ECA is following the revision of EASA Regulation 1592/2002 with increasing worry. And it is right now - in May and June 2007 - that the Council and European Parliament (EP) are going to make a major push to find a political agreement on EASA's future shape and competences.

The German Presidency is keen to find compromises by early June - in time for Transport Ministers and EP Plenary to approve the deal before the EU Presidency goes to Portugal. The Portuguese would then simply oversee the "rubber-stamping" of that deal in a formal "second reading". If things go smoothly, EASA could take over its new mandates by Autumn this year.

This would be welcome. Pilots always wanted the "new" EASA to become operational as soon as possible. However, ECA is increasingly concerned that the time-pressure exerted by the ambitious June deadline will result in ill thought-through "quick-fix" compromises where technical detail and soundness take second stage.

Another reason for ECA to be concerned is that Council proposes a number of changes that work against rather than for aviation safety. One simple example: while it is standard practice to have an airplane inspected before each flight, Council wants to reduce the number of pre-fight checks in case of a "consistent series of consecutive flights". From a safety perspective, this is simply unacceptable!

But there are less obvious issues where ECA sees an urgent need for the Council to change track, such as the introduction of "non-technical skills" into pilot licensing requirements. Making the demonstration of such "soft" skills a prerequisite for obtaining or keeping a licence raises a number of serious concerns. These skills are not clearly definable and open for arbitrary interpretation and abuse. They are dependent on the company and national culture. And there are no objective assessment methods in place yet. ECA therefore strongly objects to the Council proposal.
Of major importance to ECA is also that the revised EASA Regulation does not undo what has been achieved with the "EU-OPS Regulation". Once "new" EASA will be responsible for operational issues it will develop "Implementing Rules" for what is now covered by Annex III of the "EU-OPS" Regulation. Once they enter into force they will become Europe?s legal standard and Annex III will be repealed.

In principle, this is good. However, the currently proposed text does not explicitly state that EASA's Implementing Rules must fully reflect EU-OPS rules as well as the results of the scientific study on Flight Time Limitations, as mandated by the EU-OPS Regulation.

ECA is also alarmed about Flight Time Limitations (FTL). While EU-OPS aimed at harmonizing FTL schemes throughout Europe by setting minimum standard, the Council now tries to use the 1592 revision to offer a "carte blanche" to Member States when approving individual operators' FTL schemes. Accordingly Member States could approve such schemes even if they are not in line with EASA's requirements, and the procedure proposed takes away from EASA any veto right. It allows the authorities to go ahead with what they want; they can be stopped only once the Commission eventually took a decision. This opens the door for a fragmentation of FTL schemes across Europe. Crucially, it risks the proliferation of nationally approved FTL schemes that are potentially unsafe. Clearly, this is not in the interest of aviation safety!

ECA and its Member Associations have urged the Members of the EP and national authorities to carefully assess and support our points. Quality must go before speed; if speed risks affecting quality, then let's reduce the speed rather than the quality. We are sure the German Presidency will try its best; but there is no reason why we should not trust the Portuguese Presidency and the EP to bring to a good conclusion what has been stated be others.