I feel the need to quote
the RTC Panel Interim report
The CAA’s response to the GA Red Tape Challenge explicitly discusses innovation in GA, for example:
“The CAA’s GA Programme is intended to help foster innovation in the GA sector by considering the potential. Initiatives already started include:
• creating a ‘commercial experimental’ aircraft category to facilitate proof-of- concept flight testing subject to professional competence and proportionate operational restrictions;
• simplifying processes for modification, changes and repairs;
• improving the substitution of obsolete or out of production materials;
• allowing certain Permit to Fly aircraft to fly at night and/or in instrument conditions if appropriately equipped; and
• simplification of the means to allow flights for test purposes (without a standard valid Certificate of Airworthiness/Permit to Fly)."
Specific innovation initiatives are discussed below, and we focus first on the general principles of managing risk associated with innovation in a regulated domain such as aviation. Many of the risk- management aspects described in the previous sections come into play. Adoption of new technology in aviation tends to follow a path of caution, for good reason. The stakes are high if an inadequately tested piece of equipment fails in service. Nevertheless, as in all aspects of safety management, there are trade-offs between the safety value of new technology and the associated risk; only by doing something differently will safety be improved. A case study is instructive.
The CAA’s reluctance to adopt Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology has probably been the area that has most threatened the credibility of the CAA as a safety regulator with the GA community. The Global Positioning System (GPS) has been available as a navigation tool since the late 1980s. GPS receivers suitable for air navigation started to appear on the market in the early 1990s, and GA pilots rapidly realised their potential for improvement of situational awareness and reduction of cockpit workload.
On 17 February 1994 the US FAA introduced Phase 2 of its GPS Approach Overlay Program. This allowed pilots to use a TSO C-129 A1 GPS receiver to fly an overlay of an approach designed for conventional navaids. On 28 April 1994 Phase 3 allowed these approaches to be flown without any conventional navaids or on-board receiver avionics. Substitution of GPS fixes for NDB or DME based navigation was also authorised. As a consequence, most owners of US aircraft, including GA aircraft, disposed of ageing and unreliable conventional navigation equipment, in particular ADFs, and invested in modern GPS equipment.
By contrast, in the UK, regulatory acceptance of GPS has proceeded at a ‘snail’s pace’. Many UK GA pilots have used handheld GPS receivers as their effective means of navigation for VFR and IFR since the mid-1990s, in the face of warnings that it must not be used as a primary means of navigation. Even GPS receivers that are, in effect, required to meet airspace requirements for Performance Based Navigation still may carry a placard prohibiting their use as a sole or primary means of navigation.
In 2006, the UK CAA announced a trial of GPS approaches for General Aviation aircraft at six UK airports. Even after successful trials, it took several years before airports were authorised to use even these approaches because of difficulties establishing safety cases. There has never been an overlay program in effect. In December 2011, the UK CAA published AIC Y 107/2011 finally exempting aircraft from the requirement to carry an ADF as a prerequisite merely for flying IFR in controlled airspace.
It notes however:
“4.2 Precision or Non-Precision Approaches with Missed Approach based upon NDB
The missed approach based upon an NDB is an integral part of the approach procedure and therefore an aircraft must be equipped with ADF to conduct the missed approach procedure.“
Of the few GPS approaches now available in the UK, most, such as those at Gloucester, Blackpool and Cambridge use an NDB as part of the missed approach procedure. Aircraft flying the procedure must therefore be equipped with an ADF, even though for all practical purposes the equipment is likely to remain switched off while the missed approach is flown, with great precision, using GPS.
There is an unquantified hypothetical risk (perhaps better termed a “hazard” in standard safety terminology) associated with the substitution of GPS fixes for NDBs: the obstacle clearance criteria are, technically, different. However, the practical risk associated with such a substitution is, as proven, by experience in the USA, negligible. Yet in deference to this hypothetical risk, the benefits of the new technology are largely lost.
It not credible that the requirement for an ADF should be the result of an objective analysis of the balance between the risk associated with GPS fix substitution and the cost of continuing to carry ADF equipment in a serviceable state. That this remains the legal situation in the UK two decades after the FAA put its GPS Approach Overlay Program into effect (with no net safety issues) is a sad indictment of the appetite of the UK CAA to embrace innovation.