The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has this morning published the final section and set of additional recommendations and requirements on air show display organisers and pilots and that form part of the overall Civil Air Display Review. The aim of the review process has been to not only to provide necessary public confidence in respect of airshow safety but also to learn whatever lessons needed to be taken from the tragic crash of a privately owned Hawker Hunter jet taking part in the Shoreham Airshow last August and that crashed onto the A27 trunk road killing eleven people and injuring many others.
From the outset of the Civil Air Display Review the aim has been to improve safety and decrease risk. Whilst it is true that the manner in which the CAA had announced an immediate increase in charges for air shows within the preliminary report could have been better handled by ensuring greater prior discussion with air show organisers we should in my view be satisfied that emphasis in the final report is all about ensuring ongoing implementation, oversight and commitment by the CAA to working with the display community and to making sure that future air show events have the highest levels of safety provides. In my view, all necessary reassurance to the air show community and to the public as a whole that air show safety remains a priority for all concerned can be found in this CAA report.
The CAA has confirmed that all the various changes announced, either in the final report published today or the preliminary report recommendations published in January, will be reviewed at the end of the 2016 air display season. This is important and it will be a gauge that we can use to ensure that in terms of new regulation the CAA has not gone over the top.
In confirming that it will further review events at the end of the 2016 season the CAA is usefully showing that it is prepared to listen to the views of the air show community and that it recognises the value and importance that air shows provide in terms of public perception and the important part that they play in encouraging young people to look at engineering and science based professions. Personally, I am particularly pleased to hear the CAA confirm that it will “seek the views of all those involved in air displays for feedback”.
The CAA report has been published ahead of the still awaited Air Accident Investigation Branch report and which separately continues to investigate the causes of the crash and is attempting to conclude whether pilot error, mechanical failure or whatever other possible reasons caused this dreadful accident – the first to cause actual loss of life at an air show event within the United Kingdom since Farnborough in 1952.
We may all have our own individual opinions and views on what likely caused this accident but until the AAIB puts its head over the parapet and reports it is not our place to speculate on the most likely causes. The CAA has been clear in its final report today that it will consider if further changes and enhancements are required following the future publication of the AAIB report into the Shoreham accident.
In its final report the CAA has also reiterated that restrictions introduced immediately after the Shoreham accident will remain in place until the final AAIB report into the accident is published and the CAA can review its findings. Those restrictions include the grounding all UK civilian owned Hawker Hunter aircraft, restricting the display manoeuvres of similar ex-military jet aircraft over land to fly-pasts only and there will be requirements for additional risk assessments for displays.
The CAA review which had been launched immediately after the Shoreham Air Show accident has been focused on the outset on improving and enhancing regulation of civil air displays as a whole. The fact that there have been no fatalities at a UK airshow since 1952 is I am afraid in this situation immaterial. What matters above all else is that the public, whether visiting airshow events or travelling around them or living near to them, can be confident that sufficient regulation is in place to ensure public safety is always the top priority. Given what the CAA has now done I do not believe that room for further doubt on this subject although I appreciate that there will be views that suggest the CAA may have gone further than necessary.
Most will I hope agree that the final CAA review recommendations and that are aimed to build further upon the measures announced in the January provide sufficient confidence that the regulator has strengthened its position in respect of private air show events and acted to close some of the gaps such as medical and pilot competency requirements that might have been better addressed earlier.
The new regulations that include enhanced risk assessments for displays, strengthening requirements for areas such as training, checks for those overseeing displays and looking in far more detail at the level of experience, skill and health of display pilots are very positive and each are welcome. There is of course a separate argument running that suggests the CAA had been found wanting particularly in terms of measuring health and pilot skills but I do not believe that it serves any useful purpose dwelling further on this. The link to the final CAA Civil Air Display Review report is below:
In addition to pushing forward with the earlier proposed actions, the CAA’s final report has confirmed a requirement that air show organisers meet a number of further safety related obligations. These include:
Strengthening post-display reporting requirements to reflect the importance of feedback and safety reporting from air displays.
Increasing the distance between the display line and crowd line for any situations where distances were previously less than those in place for military displays.
Increasing the minimum height altitude at which ex-military jet aircraft can undertake aerobatic manoeuvres.
Strengthening the competency requirements for pilots performing aerobatic manoeuvres in civil registered, ex-military jet aircraft.
Other important aspects of the final report conclusions include:
With effect from 1 April 2016, a display authorisation will only remain valid for pilots of all registered aircraft who hold either an EU medical certificate issued by an AME or an ICAO medical certificate that is of an equivalent or higher standard.
Display pilots authorised to perform at standard level aerobatics in multiple categories including jet powered and helicopter categories must renew in those categories at least every two years and where that authorisation also includes one or more of turboprop, multi-engine piston (MEP) or single-engine piston (SEP) categories they must rotate their renewal across those categories year on year.
Pilots authorised to perform standard level aerobatics will only be permitted to perform loops or barrel rolls in civil registered ex-military jet aircraft at civil air displays if they have received explicit approval from a suitably qualified DAE. Approval will be made clear on a pilot’s DA.
FDDs must verify the DA of pilots wishing to perform standard level loops and barrel rolls in civil registered ex-military jet aircraft to confirm that they have the authorisation to perform the manoeuvres.
Where a display aircraft is performing aerobatics at a speed of between 200 and 300 kt IAS, the minimum distance between the crowd and the display line must be 230 metres and where a display aircraft is performing at a speed in excess of 300 kt IAS, and the display includes any high speed manoeuvres towards the crowd, the minimum distance between the crowd and the display line must be 450 metres and for light aircraft, with a maximum weight of less than 1200kg and operating speeds of less than 150 kt IAS throughout the display, the minimum separation is 150 metres.
From publication of this report, and until further notice, operators of civil registered ex-military jet aircraft must seek formal approval from the CAA to perform aerobatic manoeuvres below 500 feet
With immediate effect the weather minima for flying displays by aircraft other than V/STOL aircraft operating in jet-borne flight/V/STOL mode, rotorcraft and other aircraft with a stalling speed below 50 knots, flying flat aerobatic displays, will be 500 ft cloud base BKN and OVC and 5 km visibility for both solo and formation displays.
From the 2016 display season onwards all event organisers and FDDs must submit a post-air display report to the CAA. Pilots must also report any aspect of their display that could have caused a significant safety risk.
FDDs will be responsible for reporting all breaches of safety at their display to the CAA. Where a ‘stop’ call is made during a display for reasons related to the fitness or competence of a pilot the circumstances leading to the ‘stop’ must be reported to the pilot concerned and to the CAA as soon as practicable. In such circumstances the CAA will issue a provisional suspension of the display authorisation to the pilot concerned.
The CAA has said that it will review the criteria and requirements for the acceptance of ex-military aircraft onto the civil register. This work will be completed by early 2017.
We will require maintenance schedules for ex-military aircraft on the civil register to be provided to the CAA, so that we can harmonise schedules and improve the standard of these documents. This work will be completed by the end of 2016.
The CAA intends to work closely with the MAA (Military Aviation Authority) and the Ministry of Defence to enhance the CAA’s understanding of the revision levels of key military publications on which maintenance schedules for which ex-military aircraft are based. This work will be completed by the end of 2016.
The CAA proposes to conduct a review of all ex-military aircraft on the civil register that are required to have ejection seats fitted and active to ensure that they are necessary and appropriately maintained. This work should all be concluded by early 2017.
The CAA will establish continued airworthiness boards for different types and classes of aircraft to facilitate regular exchange of airworthiness information of type- or class-specific best practice. We expect the first of these meetings to be held before the end of May this year.
The CAA will commence a programme of work to study and enhance understanding of human factor issues within the air display sector, starting with a full-day industry workshop on the causes and impact of human error for display pilots (date to be set).
CHW (London 14th April 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS