Guest Blog: Europe Leads In Simplifying Regulation

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The Aero Expo in Friedrichshafen promotes itself as the pulse-meter of the European GA market and that often doesn't come across in a factually balanced news release. By American standards, Aero is not a huge show, but it’s a busy one and a target-rich environment for new stuff.

Yes, there was a clear dominance of electronics, electric propulsion systems and upgraded technology. I suppose it’s fair to say knowledge of all the gewgaws is required in order to remain eye to eye with a fellow aviator. That's all fine and dandy, but there’s a lot more going on here in Europe than is apparent from just wandering the stands.

The big surprise was attending the news conference EASA put on and paying close attention to just how significantly this agency has changed itself over the last five to six years. I left the conference with a somewhat spooked feeling, because so much collaboration and exchange and such open words from an aviation regulatory body feel almost unreal. In fact, after listening for the first 15 minutes of the two-hour conference, I started secretly looking around for some sort of hidden camera. Clearly, at any moment, we would be coughing and trying to wipe the dust off our shirts when the show would end and yet another 1900-page rule book would crash to the table.

Instead, I learned that a whole team at EASA spent a lot of time condensing the previous 1900-page rulebook down to a lot less, focusing on significance and intended purpose. The question they asked was: "How many pages of rules and regulations does one have to read or thumb through to arrive at something relevant that is easy to understand and doesn't require an attorney’s interpretation to comply with?" 

With some of us munching away on the catered items and refreshments provided, I wondered if we would have a chance in the U.S. to see similar sentiments from our own FAA. EASA tells me it’s working hand in hand with the FAA on relaxing the system from its at-times incredibly constipated bureaucracy. Yet no one at EASA said a negative word about the FAA being behind the airplane on the "Roadmap For General Aviation."

EASA's presence and effort appeared personable and authentic and it was definitely clear that the agency is listening to manufacturers, associations, pilot groups and proposals from outside and within the European aviation universe. While one has to wonder just how much of this behavior will rub off on our friends in Washington, let the following perceptions sink in:

EASA has recognized that it has lacked the insight into the field to sensibly regulate general aviation while at the same time effectively evaluating and mitigating risk and promoting a safety culture among all players. Recognizing fault is the first step to getting better, right? This monumental task requires stakeholders and regulators alike to sit around the table and discuss things and to actually listen actively.

One catalyst here is the unmanned aircraft industry, the rapid implementation of which has shaken regulators on both sides of the Atlantic. Integrating a rapidly growing drone industry is a challenge, together with the constantly expanding possibilities of electronics, VTOL technology, octa-copters, airspace restrictions, environmental concerns and a generally easily entertained but hard-to-reach and rapidly aging audience. All of it requires collaboration and open minds.

EASA has gotten the memo that raising the regulatory finger and throwing the dusty old rulebook at its industry isn't a path to success. Once the market has been regulated or taxed to death, their jobs become obsolete, too.

I’m not saying that all wishes are fulfilled or that none of our wants are pink or floating around on fluffy clouds over here. Far from it. Instead, I would encourage conversations about how the FAA can be convinced that things must be simplified and pronto.

To be fair, the FAA is moving in the right direction, as evidenced by its cooperative attitude toward installation of non-certified avionics in certified airplanes. That’s a start. But even though the U.S. remains the world aviation mecca, it’s the Europeans who are showing us how a regulatory agency can transform itself and actually be a catalyst to market growth instead of a hindrance. Who would have ever thought this would happen?  

Comments (7)

From my time on the ASTM committee looking at standards for Part 23, I got the same impression. The Europeans were tighter on their rules but they were far more willing to hear and honestly arguments about why the rules should change. The FAA types weren't as strict, but unless you proposed something stricter, but they were far less willing to entertain changing something if it wasn't their idea. "We have no idea why that's the rule, we agree it doesn't make sense, but it's been the rule for a long time and so we aren't going to change it".

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | April 23, 2018 5:01 PM    Report this comment

Where's Randy Babbitt?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 23, 2018 5:26 PM    Report this comment

Robert G-M ... whatever happened to Appendix G.4 of the ARC report to FAA? Do you know ??

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 23, 2018 8:21 PM    Report this comment

I have the impression that the Europeans brought in a whole raft of oppressive new rules starting about a decade ago, and after finally starting to understand why their "we don't need to consider your input - we already talked to the airlines" approach had drawbacks, are now open to listening to other airspace users. Simple example of completely unnecessary heavy-handedness: In the UK, the century-old practice of allowing glider operations under self-governance, without the need for a Class II medical or government-issued license, was eliminated - this month, I believe (will it return after Brexit?). Why, in heaven's name?
That said, I applaud their decade-late openness to input, and apparent willingness to act on it.
And, perhaps my impression (whole raft of oppressive new rules introduced a decade ago) is wrong/skewed.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | April 24, 2018 6:25 AM    Report this comment

I assume you're talking about the Primary Non-Commercial category? I have no idea. I do know it's not strictly a Part 23 item; it involves changing Part 21 and (IIRC) a bit of Part 43.

I got the impression that the FAA reps on the ASTM committee weren't too hot on the idea. They wanted to lower the weight threshhold for requiring type ratings, under the reasoning that insurance companies required that type of training anyway for the airplanes they were talking about. I said "so why bother then? Sounds like the free market has already addressed the issue; we don't need more rules". I think jaws dropped.

I also had a hard time convincing some them that four- and six-seat airplanes were truly "personal" airplanes And on the other hand, I spent a lot of time arguing with them that something like a Baron was not representative of the average light airplane that an average person stood a chance of being able to own and operate. I think I used the words "a big twin like that might as well be a 757 or F-22, since I'm just as likely to own one of those".

I asked why jets had to follow such different rules from prop airplanes, and the answer was "because they're complex and high performance, and because a guy crashed an F-86 into an ice cream shop". I posited all kinds of real-world examples of simple jets vs. complex prop planes with higher performance. I posited a jet-powered LSA. I asked them point-blank "if you're worried about the complexity and performance, then why not write the rules framed around the complexity and performance instead of how the internals of the engine work, because that's pretty much transparent to the pilot". And all I got was virtual blank stares. Only one guy sort of got it, saying "why should this (insert pic of the jet Cri-Cri) be so highly regulated compared to this (pic of a pressurized turbo twin)?"

And when the FAA finally rewrote Part 23 a year and something ago, there were lots of public comments asking about it. They "addressed" those comments with a non-response of "that doesn't fall under Part 23 so it's not addressed here".

The US regulators, especially on the small airplane side, seem so latched onto the idea that The Way Things Are stopped in the early 70s. As far as I could tell, almost nobody owned their own airplane or flew on their own dime except for one guy with a Baron, so the idea of "your rules cost too darned much" didn't resonate.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | April 24, 2018 7:05 AM    Report this comment

Robert, have you considered an appeal to self interest? That is, if they don't change their rules soon, there won't be anything to regulate. Nothing to regulate = no budget. If they want a big budget for small airplane regulation jobs, they need a lot of small airplane activity - which means they need to change the rules, and quickly.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | April 24, 2018 8:04 AM    Report this comment

Don't be duped.
The EU is famous for piling up regulations AGAINST imports and against any rule that they did not initiate. I seriously doubt if they suddenly became magnanimous toward other aviation manufacturing OUTSIDE of the EU.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 24, 2018 8:37 AM    Report this comment

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