Europe is working on changes to its regional aviation regulations that include pooling resources across countries to help ensure technical tasks—like certification and continued airworthiness—have adequate resources region-wide, a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposal reveals.
The “opinion,” published in March, is the next step in EASA’s effort to “update and improve” its Basic Regulation, an overarching framework that defines the 12-year-old agency’s roles and responsibilities. EASA, in charge of most civil aviation safety regulatory activity for the 28 European Union member states plus Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, crafted the document based in part on feedback from 6,000 industry stakeholders. The proposal suggests several notable changes beyond resource-sharing, such as enacting oversight for ground-handling service providers (GHSP), and modifying how EASA is funded.
Commenters made clear that resource limitations at some member states are hampering fundamental tasks like staffing “competent authority” (CA) inspector workforces, which are being strained by growth, such as low-cost carriers tapping new markets.
“EASA proposes to amend the Basic Regulation in order to facilitate the voluntary and temporary (i.e., non-irreversible) transfer of responsibilities and tasks horizontally between CAs, but also vertically from CAs to EASA,” the agency explains. “This flexibility would allow for a certain level of specialization at CA level, as each CA could take over the performance of one or more responsibilities and tasks from several other CAs and become a regional ‘center of expertise’ with an adequate work volume.”
The agency will also explore taking a more active role in coordinating cooperation among CAs. Examples include developing best practices and common standards for use at the member-state level, and could expand to include creating a pool of inspectors “mutually accepted and used as-needed by all CAs.”
EASA emphasized that resource- pooling and transferring of tasks “would require a solid legal basis for its funding, and should allow for the reliable, long-term planning for all involved parties.” Revamping EASA funding could include tapping additional funding resources, ranging from overflight fees to passenger contributions, EASA suggests.
“As [air traffic management] regulatory activities are transferred from Eurocontrol to EASA”—per a 2009 regulation—“the funding and its mechanism should be transferred too, while the total amount of airspace user contributions should not be affected and even diminished through efficiency gains,” EASA adds.
EASA suggested that, long-term, “a more comprehensive reform of the current funding system—in which regulatory costs are borne at EU and national level in a fragmented, sometimes ineffective and even unfair manner—would help overcome many shortcomings as identified in this Opinion.”
A majority of commenters “see unaddressed safety issues” in GHSP, and believe that including the subject in the Basic Regulation would fill “a significant gap, as there are currently no safety rules at European level to cater for these providers,” EASA notes. Air carriers are more hesitant than the general population, noting “a natural interest” to promote safe operations and expressing concern that “overly detailed technical rules and possible stringent future certification requirements” could lead to unnecessary complexity.
EASA suggested that a more measured approach could leverage industry best practices to “create a well-measured legal and enforceable obligation rather than to introduce technically new requirements.”
The agency also pledged to continue developing data-driven, per-form-ance-based regulations, but would not abandon its traditional prescriptive approach completely. EASA also will explore common “repositories” for organization approvals, personnel licenses and aircraft registries. While the registrations and official records would remain at the member-state level, common database standards would be created, “transferred to EASA and . . . updated on a regular basis.” The agency would manage the central repositories.
EASA sought input on a European-level aircraft registry, but commenters favored the middle ground of keeping the official records at the member-state level and creating a centralized database. This would help interested parties “follow the airworthiness or ownership of aircraft in the EU” and “support CAs in their oversight and monitoring functions,” EASA reasons.
The body notes that implementing EASA’s general aviation (GA) road map is a key priority to help simplify rules for GA manufacturers and operators. The agency also expects its authority to expand to cover unmanned aircraft systems, or “drones,” in EASA-speak.
“I believe that although our proposals are ambitious they are also reasonable, says EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious about safety.”
EASA’s opinion will be sent to the European Commission, which will use it to develop an amendment—due out this year—to the Basic Regulation.