Address to the IGC

Sir John Allison, President, Europe Air Sports Lausanne, 3 March 2006 I blame it all on my parents – the fact that I am standing before you today, that is. If they had got on with the job and conceived me, say, 10 years earlier, my flying career would have been over before the legislative changes that are now sweeping across Europe got started. 10 years later, and it would all have been sorted out, for better or worse, before I became available to help. As it is, the burden of tackling this mess has fallen on my generation, which might loosely be described as the “newly retired” [except that I am not retired, but that is another story] Now, I am conscious that this is a speech entirely about Europe and I am addressing a world audience. But those of you who are not European should, I suggest, listen, and not merely to reflect on how lucky you are. It is a cautionary tale about the power of politics and their associated bureaucracies to mess things up. Something like it could happen anywhere. As NATO used to say in the Cold War: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance". Change is happening in Europe. Change is threatening to overwhelm us. I have studied your agenda. It is all about the things that are your core business, important things that you do well for the World gliding community. I care about those things. For one thing, I have a son who, when I last checked, was sitting at #384 in your pilot’s ranking table. Lots of my friends and fellow countrymen occupy more illustrious spots. It is no exaggeration to say, that, without effective intervention, the chances are that gliding competitions as you know them today could become impossible in Europe within a decade. It is the mission of Europe Air Sports to intervene, in alliance with bodies such as the EGU, the EHPU the EMF and National Aero Clubs, all of whom are our members, on behalf of air sports and recreational flyers in Europe to ensure, first, that their existing freedoms to pursue their activities are preserved, and, second, that the new legislative framework is such that those activities can flourish. Before all this change started, we were OK. Before the changes, we could pursue our flying under legal frameworks that were stable and well-understood. We might have chafed at restrictions at the margins imposed by our National Aviation Authorities, but, by and large the administrations that governed our activities were not too oppressive. That is why a key tenet of Europe Air Sports’ Vision is that:

The guiding principle for the transfer of governance from national authorities to a European authority should be: "what is permitted and conducted safely today in individual countries should continue to be permitted under the new regime".
When we get bogged down in renegotiating with the European authorities the terms on which we will fly in future, we need to keep reminding ourselves that everything was perfectly OK under the old rules. There is actually no intrinsic case for change. Up to now, we have been able to get on with our flying without undue risk to third parties, and within a sensible and proven (albeit not unified) regulatory framework. Everything that is happening now is not happening at our request or for our benefit. As is so often the case with changes that have the potential to rot up the lives of ordinary people, the root cause is political. All this is happening because politicians want to change the map of Europe. At the highest level, the political issue is the struggle for power in Europe. The creation of the European Aviation Safety Agency was in my opinion simply a move in the exercise of political power by the European Commission. That is not to say that they created a monster – far from it. But it is now obvious that, when EASA started their massive task of reinventing the wheel, they barely thought of us, the recreational and sporting aviation community, and certainly did not understand our needs. A spectacular early mistake was enacting into law, without adequate consultation or research, the infamous and aberrant Annex 2 List, with, for example, its arbitrary and illogical treatment of weight limits for gliders as compared with microlights. This excluded from EASA jurisdiction microlights below 300kg (single seat) and 450kg (two seat) whereas the equivalent figures for exclusion of gliders was 80kg and 100kg. Such mistakes are not readily correctible now that they are law, but I give EASA full credit for listening carefully to what we have to say when it comes to future legislation. Indeed, they have some refreshing and imaginative ideas for the future regulatory framework of sporting and recreational aviation, and we have the opportunity over the next 18 months or so to help shape our own future – of which, more later, but first a little history. EASA was formed in 2002 with the stated objective to "ensure a high and uniform level of protection of the European citizen, and to facilitate free movement of goods, persons and services". To their credit, its officials pursue these goals with zeal and professionalism. For myself, I would observe that I have never noticed any particular problem with free movement, inside or outside of Europe – other than that resulting from the pusillanimous response of governments to the threat of terrorism. As to safety, we are all mentally conditioned these days to believe that risk can be eliminated from human activity, and the human spirit is the poorer for it in my opinion. But actually, Europe is a pretty safe place, and I would say we were well into the law of diminishing returns on safety as regards commercial air transport and third party risk from sports aviation. Personal risk within a sport is a matter only for individual sportsmen and the governing bodies of their sport; it is no business of politicians or civil servants. But safety is a wonderful mantra, and an unassailable cloak for other objectives. I have already suggested what I believe the real objective of creating EASA to be. Look, don’t be too alarmed if I say some mildly provocative things. Regulatory matters are so deeply boring in themselves that I have to liven my speeches up somehow, or I would fall asleep while writing them. I have to tackle a boring bit now. Regulations drawn up by EASA are passed directly into European law via the Commission and Parliament, by-passing national authorities and parliaments entirely. The powers (or "competencies" in Euro speak) of EASA embrace:
  • Certification (initial airworthiness)
  • Maintenance (continuing airworthiness)
  • Licensing and medical, and
  • Operations.
In the future, they are expected to take in also, airports and airspace. EASA regulations for Certification are already in place. In principle, common certification rules across Europe is a good thing, and to be welcomed. But the devil is always in the detail. For instance, they started by saying that all instruments installed in gliders, including non-safety critical instruments like variometers, should be fully certified. This would create needless bureaucracy and expense, and they are now reconsidering. Maintenance regulations are already in force for commercial air transport, and are scheduled for implementation for non-commercial aviation from September 2008. The maintenance regulations for our sector (Part-M, as they are called) are, as initially drafted, needlessly complex and bureaucratic, and would increase operating costs. They would damage all kinds of recreational flying activities. An example of one unintended outcome, pertinent to gliding, is that volunteers would be deprived of any meaningful role. However, to their great credit, EASA have agreed to review Part-M with us, even delaying the implementation date if necessary. This is very significant, because it demonstrates:
  • First, the willingness to listen and flexibility of outlook, of EASA’s Rulemaking Directorate, and, second:
  • The ability of Europe Air Sports to intervene effectively on behalf of the air sports community.
The next area for attention will be Licencing. Now – and this is another of the irreverent bits - I am dangerous on this topic, because I come from a couple of cultures that seems to have managed quite well without licences up to now. For one, I refer, of course, to the British Gliding Association, which has delivered effective supervision of the sport for many decades entirely without Government assistance. The second may surprise you. I spent 38 years as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. It trains and supervises its pilots, of course, but it does not licence them. It’s a pretty good air force nevertheless. I can’t help wondering whether there is a clue there somewhere. Seriously, I do not actually see any need for pilots of the simpler forms of flying machine to be licensed at all. However, I will concede that, if a pilot is to take passengers, some standards of training and competence must be underwritten by a licensing system. The history in this area is interesting. The advent of the JAR Flight Crew Licensing system, and in particular its inappropriately heavy medical standards, produced a backlash in the re-creation of National Private Pilots’ Licences, whose medical requirements, in particular, were not so overbearing. Many pilots have been safely returned to the sky by this means. Drawing on this example, EASA has made imaginative proposals for a European Recreational Licence. They have formed a Task Group, MDM 032, on which Europe Air Sports has 7 expert advisers, to develop, starting at the strategic level, a concept for the regulation of aircraft other than complex motor powered aircraft, used in non-commercial activities. In its preamble to the Terms of Reference, EASA notes the complaints of the majority of stakeholders that they are already over-regulated and do not want to be faced with the same situation when the OPS and FCL regulatory framework is transferred to EASA. The task group will address design, maintenance operations and licensing, including consideration of the creation of a European Recreational PPL and of the prospect that such a licence could be issued by Assessment Bodies. This is an exciting, unparalleled, one-off opportunity to influence our own destiny, and we must grasp it with courage and imagination. In this context, I would like to ask the European gliding community to reconsider whether they have really thought through their position on medical requirements, reflected in the recently expressed preference for ICAO based, rather than driving licence based, medical standards. At this point I should say that I recognise that I have views on this topic that some people find somewhat radical. I mean no offence to them, but I have the stage and I shall use it. It is not yet possible to know just what the EGU is proposing, because they have not declared the detail, but the requirements are likely to exceed those required for an ordinary driving licence. How can it be better for the recreational flying community to opt for more stringent, as opposed to more relaxed, medical standards? I just can’t get my head round it. There is a lot I would like to say on this subject, but on this occasion I will offer just one thought. There is safety in numbers, and there are millions of private car drivers in Europe, many of whom, I suggest, would fail to meet the medical standards proposed by the EGU. They are nevertheless allowed to drive at lethal speeds in close proximity to other vehicles and bystanders, and carrying passengers moreover, posing a far greater third party risk than does a glider. But politically, such freedom is likely to remain undisturbed. The private car licence should be our standard, at the very least for solo flight. Medical standards are a critical issue, because they have the potential to ground people entirely. There is really only one other issue that carries that same ultimate risk – and that is airspace. Here the potential for change is arguably more threatening in the long run than anything else. And European gliding, by virtue of its airspace needs, is in the front line of this key battle. In 2003, Eurocontrol was given the mandate by the EU to harmonise the airspace structure in Europe. This had the potential greatly to reduce the volume of free airspace available for VFR flight. Throughout this process, the aim of Europe Air Sports has been to preserve the greatest possible volume of unregulated air space, and to ensure that as much as possible of airspace that is subject to some form of air traffic management, is still accessible by the recreational user. So far, the line has been held, thanks, at least in part, to the inability of nations to agree on a common structure. The key issue has been the attempt to agree upon a common FL ZULU, that is the flight level that will in future define the boundary between regulated and essentially unregulated airspace. This matter has been deferred until 2010/2012 at the earliest. So we are all safe for now. One possible prediction is that the States will conclude, failing to arrive at a compromise, that the present boundary, FL195, will be the dividing line for the foreseeable future. However, those looking warily at the SESAR Project (whose aim is the long-term modernisation of air traffic management across Europe) point to a gloomier view of the possible future. SESAR is to be a Joint Undertaking (i.e. jointly financed) between Eurocontrol and industry, which means service providers, commercial air transport, airports and manufacturers. It is hard not to worry about this alliance between parties whose vested interests and ambitions are diametrically opposed to our own. It is set out in the project that those stakeholders who pay for the project will be judged competent to decide the future. That is understandable in itself. Those who invest in research and development and, ultimately, deployment of new technologies, will expect a return on their investment. But this means that, if we drop our guard, we could come eventually to a position where the structure and use of airspace is decided by the very groups with whom we are competing for access, in particular to the lower levels, with the danger that access would only be granted if we pay, or under terms that are unacceptable to our sports. I do not say that this is the intention today, but, judging from the way that the project is being set up, the risk is very clear. It is necessary for all users to share the sky equitably. For one group to invest in control technologies that another group neither wants nor needs, and thereby claim ownership of the sky would be wrong. Nobody owns the sky. The investors will own only the technology. Nor should any group be allowed to steal the sky and sell it back to us. Ultimately, such questions are political. What kind of Europe do we want? One that is ruled by big business? Or one in which the freedom of the individual is valued and protected? I have described how Europe Air Sports is fully engaged in a positive and constructive way with officials at EASA and Eurocontrol. I have real reason to believe that these good relationships and our joint work and cooperation will continue to bear fruit. But it may not be enough. We may persuade officials to make sensible proposals to the Commission, and ultimately to the European Parliament, but we have seen cases where our hard-won gains at official level are lost in horse trading at the political level. So I know that we need to become political lobbyists, something that we have neither the experience nor resources to do very effectively right now. We have to get smarter and, for one thing, turn the pronouncements made by our political masters back upon them. It is also instructive, for its insights into the official mind, to read some of their stuff. There is a new programme, clearly triggered by rejection of the Constitution, called "Citizens for Europe", aimed at "bridging the gap between Citizens and the European Union". Its preamble says:
"This new programme will provide the Union with instruments to promote active European citizenship, put citizens in its centre and offers them the opportunity to fully assume their responsibility as European citizens. It responds to the need to improve their participation in the construction of Europe and will encourage cooperation between citizens and their organisations from different countries in order to meet, act together and develop their own ideas in a European environment which goes beyond a national vision, respecting their diversity"
Closer to home are some quotes from a discussion framework, written by EU officials, for a workshop on "The Social Function of Sport":
"Sport helps to develop social abilities such as teamwork, solidarity, tolerance and fair play in a multicultural framework and sport nowadays can definitely be considered an important component of the 'toolbox' for social intervention."
"Sport is a good tool to integrate migrant populations."
I offer these quotes because – unsurprisingly - they affirm the objective of nation-building. Also, the use of language like "instruments" and "tools" reveals, it seems, that they see us as zombies to be manipulated in the pursuit of political goals. [My wife said that "zombies" was an inappropriate exaggeration, but it’s a great word and I enjoyed using it!] But we can use these political statements. More usefully, I offer the following quotes: From the Treaty of Amsterdam 1999:
  • Article 29. Declaration on Sport: "The Conference emphasises the social significance of sport, in particular its role in forging identity and bringing people together. The Conference therefore calls on the bodies of the European Union to listen to sports associations when important questions affecting sport are at issue. In this connection, special consideration should be given to the particular characteristics of amateur sport."
  • Article 38. Declaration on Voluntary Service Activities: "The Conference recognises the important contribution made by voluntary service activities to developing social solidarity. The Community will encourage the European dimension of voluntary organisations."
From the conclusions of the Nice European Council Meeting 2000:
  • "Sporting activity should be accessible to every man and woman, with due regard for individual aspirations and abilities, throughout the whole gamut of organised or individual competitive or recreational sports."
We may need to put some of those genuinely splendid ideals (especially the last one) to the test in the battles to come. There is a lot to do. The next couple of years or so will be critical in the formulation of the regulatory framework. The airspace issue will probably be more protracted. And how can you help? If you are fortunate enough not to be a European aviator, then it isn’t your fight, is it? Well, strictly speaking, it is not. But would you wish to see the ending of effective competition gliding in Europe? Of course not – and that could potentially be at stake. So I address you all in saying how help might be given. There are three broad things, two of which we need now, and one that we could need in the future:
  • First, we need more expert and clever people, normally drawn from our member organisations (but external volunteers would be very welcome) who would be willing to get involved and share the increasing burden of representation. There is a particular need for people with professional lobbying skills.
  • Second, we need more money to meet the increasing cost of representation. We are essentially an organisation of unpaid volunteers (Europe should be proud of us!). We have one part-time paid official and one of our volunteers receives a small honorarium. That is all we can afford on an income of €130,000 pa, which is just not enough to cover the cost of representation, let alone future costs of lobbying.
  • The first two wants are needed now. The third may be for later. I hope that it does not come to this, but we must be prepared, if our reasonable representations are unsuccessful on any aspect that is fundamental to air sports, to make a fuss. By that I mean lawful political activism across Europe, for which we shall have to mobilise the entire air sports community. But, as I say that would be a last resort.