No-one thought that achieving a single, supra-national executive aviation safety agency for Europe would be simple. The easiest part is recognising that it is a worthy objective, and none of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) states has ever dissented from the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) ideal, which is about high safety standards and a level regulatory playing field for all operators in contracting states.

But now that the agreement has been drawn up in fine detail, spelling out exactly what powers the member states will be required to cede to the agency, politicians and civil servants reel in horror. This is where things stand now.

It seems strange that constitutional obstacles should only become visible once the detail is spelled out, because it has always been clear that a supra-national agency with executive power is exactly what it says it is. But, as the European Commission's (EC) head of Air and Passenger Safety, Claude Probst, says: "All the problems stem from the fact that a group of countries is not a single country."

The EU (European Union) has taken half a century to get to where it is now. The process has been tentative, step by step. It is actually a process of testing the system at each stage to see if it can be trusted. Almost two years ago the EC drew up a framework for the EASA and how it would work. This was given the go-ahead by the Council of Ministers. So the EC set about filling in the fine detail, and it was at that point that reality began to dawn. Many states were simply not constitutionally ready for this.

It is a strange position to be in. The objective is clear, the road is straight, but suddenly the problems look infinite. In fact the only thing which is totally clear is that getting to the EASA goal is not going to be a one-step procedure. Any attempt to get there in one bound would result in a bureaucracy so hemmed in with conditional clauses that it would be impossibly cumbersome and, in practice, unable to function.

So, if Europe is ever to have an EASA that works, there has to be a first step which will allow the concept to become visible in practice, and gradually to earn the trust of the membership. If it were to earn that trust, the concept of devolving power in this specialist area to a supra-national body would become less frightening, the conditions for acceptance would reduce, and national constitutions would become more flexible. This is where the EC steps in with its plan B - what Probst has dubbed "the Community EASA".

The trouble with this proposed first step is that it looks as if it puts the EC in charge of framing aviation regulations, an idea which is enough - quite understandably - to chill the blood of anyone in the aviation and aerospace industries. It's the trust - or lack of trust - problem again.

The EC, in the minds of the average hard-working member of a JAA technical committee, consists of a massive, anonymous band of politically motivated, overpaid bureaucrats who think they know it all, looking for ways of taking over the whole process of EU governance.

The Community EASA would use existing EU systems to take the first step towards an executive EASA. The JAA would become, effectively, an agency to which the EC would devolve the responsibility for drawing up the regulations. The EC's job would, in practice, be rubber-stamping JAA proposals that had already gone through the existing consultation process. The emerging regulations would only be applicable directly in EU member states. Other JAA member countries "can take it or leave it", as Probst puts it. All the evidence is that they would choose to take it, because that's what they do already.

A healthy degree of scepticism about putting a politically linked organisation in charge of aviation technical and operational regulations is essential. But the EC is already in charge of pharmaceutical, and some medical, regulations, and the Commission devolves the task of framing them to scientists, technicians and doctors. If JAA regulations are to become common European law instead of the recommended standards that they are today, there has to be a first step, and this one looks plausible.

Source: Flight International