Guest Blog: Europe Leads In Simplifying Regulation
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?