Europe's politicians might as well be asleep for all the knowledge they have of the problems facing the pilot training industry

Politics should be kept separate from the serious business of administering flight safety. The European Joint Aviation Authorities, however, is about to be tempted by that consummately political safety organisation, the US Federal Aviation Administration, to jump the barrier between the two.

The JAA has for some time been sitting on the fence between its safety duties and the political territory at pilot training. The Joint Aviation Requirements for flightcrew licensing (JARFCL) - or at least the part of the JAR which deals with how pilots should be trained for the new European pilot's licence - insists that they must be trained by organisations based in one of the JAA states.

Up to this point the JAA has had a powerful non-safety-inspired argument for injecting the geographical clause: the FAA's rules, until last week, used to state categorically that pilots could only train for an FAA pilot's licence in American skies. So without being overtly political, the JAA has been able to respond to arguments from its training industry to make a similar ruling.

But with a week to go before the JAA adopts its final draft of the JARFCL, the FAA, or to be more precise, its parent the US Department of Transportation (DoT), has revoked the clauses which prevent FAA-approved pilot training schools from being based outside the USA. This policy U-turn, which allows the USA to claim self-righteously that it is only righting a wrong, has robbed the European pilot training industry of any non-safety argument for retaining a clause which, it could now be argued, is simple trade protectionism. The FAA document unashamedly quotes the JAA's imminent adoption of the "restrictive clause" as a reason for rushing through its change without the usual consultation process.

So today the world ought to be happier. The USA has revoked a piece of protectionist legislation, and the Europeans can do the same.

It is never as simple as that, however. The timing of the FAA rule-change is a demonstration of how ruthless the USA is prepared to be in defence of its own industries. The US training industry knows that, with its low costs, it did not need artificial protection, whereas the highly taxed European industry could now collapse without it. So the effect of the JAR FCL has been to present the USA with a single, massive, European market which it can serve profitably, something it could never have done when there were as many pilot licence syllabi as there were nations.

What should the JAA do? Its only concern must be safety in all its aspects. If the only FCL consideration is that student pilots should graduate with the skill and knowledge standards specified by the JARs, it should not matter where in the world the training organisation is based. If the JAA's inspectors judge that any pilot training organisation cannot provide pilots which could operate safely in Europe's skies, then it can, and would, refuse that school approved status. So high standards and safety could be assured.

It would, however, cost a massive amount to carry out adequate safety oversight inspections if not one JAA-approved school survives in Europe. Oversight resources was one argument which the FAA quoted for confining its pilot training within the USA.

Like it or not, from today onwards, pilot training is a global industry. It is a trade like any other and, among nations who have agreed that trade barriers are a thing of the past, the remaining barriers in this industry will inevitably fall. If any barriers are to remain, that is not a matter for the JAA; it is a matter for Europe's politicians.

Which politicians, though? Members of the European Parliament? The competition commissioner, Karel van Miert, at the European Commission? National aviation ministers? Europe's politicians might as well be asleep for all the knowledge they have of the problems facing the pilot training industry.

If Europe's schools feel their US counterparts enjoy municipal, state and federal subsidies in the form of free use of airfields, tax breaks for foreign students and a host of other tax advantages, then it is their job to mobilise the politicians to level this trade playing field. If they fail to do so, they might as well give up and move to the USA.

Source: Flight International