European Aviation Safety Agency

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Mr. Syms: The CAA has been one of the great successes of this country. The regulation moves a great degree of competence outside national control. Within these documents and the morass of paperwork there is a suggestion that Europe may wish to take over registration and the regulation of air traffic control and airports in the future, as the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) said. Does the Minister see that happening, and when does he believe that Europe will make its proposals in that area?

Mr. Ainsworth: That question is broadly the same as that asked by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), from my days in Committee on the Transport Bill. We have a very good record of and reputation for air safety, and our aviation industry has been successful over a long time. However, we have long recognised the need to move forward and the fact that we cannot do a job within our own boundaries. There is more European integration on aircraft manufacture than in many other industries, and the aviation industry is governed by various international agreements, as hon. Members know.

If we can satisfy ourselves that we have got the structure right and that the agency will have the strength to make the improvements that we envisage are possible with the proposal, it will be our intention to bring other areas within EASA's framework, but I cannot say how quickly we will be able to do that.

Mr. Gill: Further to the answer that the Minister gave me earlier, is there evidence that other countries that will be affected by the agreement have standards that are unacceptably low or lower than ours?

Mr. Ainsworth: I have asked that question many times in preparation for this debate and in trying to get on top of the brief that I now have as a Minister. I am told that there are variations in standards, but they are not the main issue for air safety in other countries. The way in which standards are enforced, applied and monitored—which has been very effective in this country—tends to lead to far more variation than the standards or rules themselves. The fact that we have the expertise of the CAA, which takes air safety extremely seriously, leads to the good record that we have in the UK. We are not necessarily applying standards higher than those in other countries.

Mr. Quinn: My hon. Friend is probably aware that the European Parliament's Transport Committee feels that the proposals lack imagination and backbone in some respects. It is especially concerned about the proposed organisation's perceived autonomy. Do the British Government have a view on that? Would the traditional British approach in this area find favour with our partner nations in Europe?

Mr. Ainsworth: If the Committee's view is as my hon. Friend describes, it does not concur with the general thrust of what we are trying to achieve. We want an agency with a high degree of autonomy within the competence that has been decided for it. It should be able to develop its credibility and reputation, so that it can not only ensure that its standards are properly enforced throughout the European Union but deal effectively with organisations outside Europe such as the Federal Aviation Administration. It is essential that we get the structure right and that we ensure to the maximum degree possible that safety considerations are ring-fenced and not impinged on by other considerations that inevitably affect inter-state relationships.

Our negotiating position has been to try to make certain that the agency is independent in respect of the standards that it is obliged to enforce. It must be given resources to recruit the staff who will give it the credibility necessary to improve standards.

Mr. Gill: Other agencies throughout the European Union might have similar responsibilities, but some of us doubt whether the rules and regulations prescribed in specific countries are enforced. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), the Minister said that the enforcement authority in this country would be the Civil Aviation Authority—nothing wrong with that—but what surety or assurance can he give the Committee that the respective authorities in other countries will enforce the measures? If they do not, what is the point of the co-operation?

Mr. Ainsworth: I am trying to avoid the wider European debates that often break out in this place. Co-operation must obtain in this respect, because the JAA is not a legally based organisation capable of enforcing its decisions within individual countries that sign up to agreements. We are left to reach a consensus in the first place and it is then up to the agencies in individual states to enforce what has been agreed—not necessarily best done on a uniform basis, as I acknowledged.

That is why our own CAA has stressed the need for a legally based agency capable of imposing standards, inspecting them and ensuring that they are enforced within member states. The CAA is not frightened of those standards being applied to itself. It is happy to have our systems inspected. It and the Government see great benefits in ensuring that standards are also inspected and imposed in other countries.

Mr. Syms: The Joint Aviation Authority—we all know about its problems—generally tried to work closely with the FAA in the United States. The size of the aviation market there made that a sensible option. The European Aviation Safety Agency is now being set up, so can the Minister assure us that it will collaborate with the FAA rather than compete with it?

We all know that there are other agendas within the European Union—particularly a social agenda that deals with passenger rights, what happens in the cabin and so forth, in order to popularise what the EU is achieving. The agenda is not always relevant purely to safety issues. My main concern with this new organisation emerging in Europe is whether it will lead to worldwide collaboration. There will be great benefits for this country if it does, but if the different authorities view each other as rivals without the same agenda, it could create problems.

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. What he says brings us back to the issue of trying to insulate the agency from any concerns other than aviation safety. EASA must become a strong and credible organisation that can deal with the FAA as a partner. If it is established in that way, it will bring huge benefits well beyond the boundaries of the European Union.

The FAA has looked and commented on these proposals as they have been developed. Many of its points are in line with the Government's proposals for a proper structure and clear accountability. There are no fundamental differences between its concerns and the position adopted by the British Government in negotiations to establish EASA.

Mr. Quinn: May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the financial statement? Regarding the financing of the proposed agency, has consultation with national airline operators taken place? Page 93 deals with the fees generated by interested parties—stakeholders, I suppose we would call them. Has there been any consultation with, or feedback from, British companies involved in manufacture for national and European operators? Does the level of fees envisaged in the document have any correlation with the situation in the North American market?

Mr. Ainsworth: The proposal is not different from what applies now, in that the fees pay for certification. There will be a transitional period, and we recognise that the figures might not be at exactly the right level at first. There might be some subsidy from the Budget during that initial period.

The UK industry pays such fees now, and we do not expect to depart from that. The proposal was developed and discussed with the industry, and there have not been any significant objections. It is an issue, because the proposal could involve costs resulting from fragmentation of our industry. The costs of the European certification system that are imposed on our industry are not comparable with costs to the Americans. The lack of such costs to the American industry gives it a competitive advantage. Further improvements and cost reductions can be made, but I believe that the British industry recognises the potential and supports the proposal.

Mr. Syms: I am not sure that fees are raised as much by the FAA in the United States, so this is a relevant competition issue. The back page of the directive states that no figures are available with respect to the financial implications and regulatory impact assessment, and that the figures could change, depending on the type, certification and size of aircraft that will be encompassed in the scheme. I am not happy that we do not have any figures, because we are passing a regulation under which that is an important factor, particularly for manufacturers and airlines in Europe.

Mr. Ainsworth: The reason that there are no figures is that cost benefits are envisaged as a result of the proposal. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that FAA fees are non-existent in some areas, and that provides a competitive advantage. However, the UK industry already operates within a certification system under the JAA, and the rules that apply to the JAA do not provide for regulatory impact assessments. The rules for EASA do provide for RIAs, and we might achieve a more balanced approach as a result. Such studies have not been necessary in the past, and there has been a need for overall consensus within the JAA. The reason that there are no costs is that we envisage improvements, rather than the imposition of additional costs.

Mr. Gill: Assuming that the regulation is passed and then applied to existing JAA members and, ultimately, to the candidate countries for the JAA, are there any significant countries that will not be subject to regulation under either the JAA or the FAA?

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