The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) marks its 50th anniversary this year and began its celebrations on 1 April.
The CAA was established in 1972, under the terms of the Civil Aviation Act 1971, following the recommendations of a government committee chaired by Sir Ronald Edwards. Prior to that, regulation of British aviation was the responsibility of the Air Registration Board and the Board of Trade.
The role of the regulator has continued to evolve over the decades and the redrawn Civil Aviation Act 1982 currently governs air flight in the UK. In 2014, the CAA took over several aviation security functions from the Department for Transport and the newly formed Directorate of Aviation Security within the CAA now manages rulemaking and compliance that aims to deliver focused and proportionate regulation.
The past five decades have seen significant changes in the aviation world, especially in terms of safety and technology. Speaking today (1 April0, Sir Stephen Hillier, Chair of the UK CAA, said: “It’s been an incredible 50 years for the Civil Aviation Authority, and indeed for the whole aerospace industry. I’m proud that the organisation has been able to sustain its position at the forefront of aviation and aerospace regulation for this extraordinary half-century, promoting safety, enjoying the trust and confidence of those that we regulate, and ensuring that we deliver the best possible outcomes for consumers and the industry.
“Aerospace has always been at the leading edge of technology, and I know that it will continue to be throughout the next 50 years. As the UK’s aviation and space regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority is proud and excited to play its part in enabling and securing that future.”
The CAA currently regulates approximately 50,000 active professional and private pilots, 19,000 UK registered aircraft, 12,400 licensed aircraft engineers, 2,350 air traffic controllers, 206 airlines, 241 licensed aerodromes, 2,400 ATOL holders and around 950 organisations involved in the design, production and maintenance of aircraft.
Listing some of the aviation milestones that have been reached during the CAA’s tenure, Sir Stephen quoted:
In 1974 Clarksons Travel holiday company collapsed with 35,000 travellers abroad. There were insufficient funds to repay those who had paid for their holidays in advance. This led to the creation of a fund to reimburse Clarksons customers, which became the ATOL scheme we know today.
In 1975, a significant milestone came when Concorde gained its CAA Certificate of Airworthiness, bringing in the era of supersonic travel.
In 1982, the Civil Aviation Authority certified the Boeing 757, 767 and, a year later, the Airbus A310.
Following the Airtours accidents of 1985, the mid-80s saw the introducing of crucial cabin safety measures: floor level lighting, toilet smoke detectors, greater space around over-wing exits and fire-blocking seat covers.
In the 1990s, further safety improvements followed the 1989 Kegworth crash.
By 1997, the aviation industry had become a major sector of the UK economy. By this time, there were 15,000 aircraft on the CAA register and UK air traffic controllers were now handling over four million flights a year. [Responsibility for air traffic control in the UK passed to NATS in the run-up to the establishment of its public-private partnership in 2001.]
In the period immediately following 9/11, the CAA played a crucial role in protecting airspace, introducing a restriction of flying over central London.
The eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (known as the ‘2010 ash crisis’) led to the closure of most of European airspace leading the CAA – working in partnership with airspace regulators throughout Europe – to set new safety standards and re-open airspace within days.
In 2017 and 2019, Monarch Airlines and Thomas Cook collapsed, with 2019 seeing the CAA launch the largest repatriation in peacetime history.
The Coronavirus pandemic led to another significant disruption to the travel industry, and the CAA played a key role in supporting the sector during this, as well as a safe restart.
Last year (2021), the CAA took on new powers as the UK’s space regulator, helping to develop a safe, innovative and thriving space industry in the UK.
Looking to the future, the CAA and US FAA are aiming to work together to support the future of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft. In a joint statement released in January 2022 it said “[we] recognise the potential of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) and other Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft to significantly benefit the public. To support future eVTOL aircraft development and operation, the US and UK civil aviation authorities are engaged in a range of bilateral and multilateral discussions focused on facilitating certification and validating new eVTOL aircraft, production, continued airworthiness, operations, and personnel licensing.
“As these aircraft enter into the aviation ecosystem, we must continue to maintain the high safety standards that the public expects. To streamline and expedite integration, this technology should use existing regulatory frameworks on which that strong safety record is founded.”
The UK regulator is also developing a number of strategic projects relating to ‘conventional’ aircraft including simplification and rationalisation of licensing and training as well as the simplification and rationalisation of maintenance organisations.
It has also recently accepted the latest iteration of the airspace change masterplan, developed by the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG). This is a significant milestone towards modernising the UK’s airspace to deliver quicker, quieter, and cleaner journeys and goes hand in hand with the creation of the CAA’s Environmental Sustainability Panel in early 2022. According to the CAA “The panel will act as an expert ‘critical friend’ of the organisation and will provide technical advice to make sure environmental and sustainability interests are properly considered when the CAA is working to improve aviation’s sustainability.”
The panel’s key activities will include:
– Provision of expert technical advice to support the CAA’s environmental roles, or on specific tasks as requested by the CAA.
– Helping the CAA to understand and take account of environmental interests and impacts in its regulatory policy and framework.
– Supporting progress towards the CAA’s strategic focus on improving environmental performance, including informing delivery of the CAA’s forthcoming environmental sustainability strategy.
– Providing advice or critique on research undertaken by the CAA, or helping identify where further research may be needed to inform the CAA’s sustainability agenda.