Balloon Repair Station

EASA Part M ‘Light’ Meeting – Cologne 28-29 April 2015

As EASA struggle to convince us all that they are going to do something about the sledgehammer rules and regulations which they have decided should be applied to the somewhat delicate balloon Don Cameron is stalwartly continuing to bring pressure to bear on those that shrug and gesticulate, on occasions being rewarded with criticism for upsetting the applecart but, on the other hand, his ploy is working as some concessions now look likely. At the end of April Don once more took a seat at in Cologne for another round of ‘talks’ on the subject. Here is his report.

Report by Don Cameron
I attended a meeting at EASA in Cologne to join in discussion of the draft of Part M Light which is alleged to alleviate the problems of Part M being applied to General Aviation. It was also attended by Graham Hallett on behalf of EBF (European Balloon Federation) and BBAC (British Balloon & Airship club) and representatives of gliding and powered aeroplane flying. At the beginning of the meeting, I made a short speech as follows:

I have expressed anger at what EASA has done to the ballooning movement, but today, I am particularly angry. For the last 45 years we have had two balloon factories in England. Now we have only one. Last week, I had to go to one of our factories to tell the staff that it was closing. The company was not getting enough business and was losing a great deal of money. It is not pleasant to tell a group of people that their income will stop and that the work they have created will be dismantled. This is something that EASA staff does not experience. If EASA runs short of money, it simply increases its monopoly charges. EASA is responsible for a large part of this sad event because it has done such an incompetent job. It is important for people working here in EASA to realise that their careless and incompetent work causes real harm to real people. Let us consider what a competent safety regulator would do.

1. A competent regulator would study the pattern of risk in the subject to be regulated. The history of accidents should be studied and statistics, if available should be compiled. Each type of accident should be considered to establish whether a proposed regulation could be effective in preventing it. In fact, they would have discovered that there has not been a single accident due to poor maintenance of a balloon in the last 232 years.* EASA failed completely to study the pattern of risk in balloons, but just pushed complex bureaucratic airliner rules onto them.

2. A competent regulator would study the impact on cost and difficulty which each element of a proposed regulation would cause to practitioners. It would then weigh this against the benefit. EASA made no effort to measure the increase in cost and difficulty of regulations for balloons but just pushed complex bureaucratic airliner rules onto them.

3. A competent regulator would have studied different pre-existing regulations in various countries to discover whether there were different outcomes. For example, had the more demanding regulations shown a demonstrable safety benefit over the less demanding ones? EASA did not study this experience for balloons although it was plentifully available. Instead they just pushed complex bureaucratic airliner rules onto them because that was the easy thing for them to do.

Instead of taking the trouble to design good regulations, despite the fact that balloons are as different from airliners as one could imagine, they simply imposed airliner rules, only slightly modified. Perhaps EASA just couldn’t be bothered and considered balloons too unimportant. Perhaps EASA thought that a little time and effort for EASA was too much; better to put massive cost and inconvenience on the users and destroy of livelihoods of hundreds of people. Not only ballooning, but the whole of General Aviation has been severely damaged by EASA’s incompetence. Across the whole of General Aviation this damage must add up to many millions of Euros. And we are still waiting for an apology.

EASA should be saying “We are sorry that our incompetence has severely damaged the air sports” EASA should be saying “We are sorry that our incompetence has cost people their jobs and their livelihood.” Instead of that, although a willingness to have better, simpler and lighter regulations has been expressed by EASA, it continues to behave as if it knows best and expects us to be grateful for some small reductions of this stupidity.

And why does EASA not listen to those who know the different disciplines of General Aviation? Oh yes, they claim to consult, but that does not work well. Most people in General Aviation work in small businesses or are unpaid spare-time pilots. We do not have time to read the hundreds of pages that EASA generates with its unlimited resources.

The application of Part M to balloon maintenance is about as stupid as it would be to apply it to the maintenance of the furniture in this room. Yes, the balloons and the furniture both need to be maintained, but the risk profile and relation between cost and benefit for both makes the application ridiculous.

For balloons we do not need Maintenance Programmes, we do not need ARCs, we do not need Part 66 inspectors and we do not need most of the rest of this stupid ritual. Everyone in ballooning, including the European Balloon Federation, is saying the same thing. We do not want to spend our time “working around” complex inappropriate rules or thinking of ways to outwit the system. As I have said before, an appropriate regulation for ballooning maintenance can be written on less than half a page of paper. I will state it here again:

All that is needed is to insert at the beginning “For balloons, see paragraph XXX” and then in paragraph XXX insert text as follows: “Balloon owners may choose to maintain a Certificate of Airworthiness, except that those carrying more than two fare-paying passengers must do so.**

A Certificate of Airworthiness is non-expiring, but, to maintain its validity, the balloon must pass an inspection by an inspector appointed by an approved manufacturer, an approved balloon repair facility or an approved balloon federation. The inspection must be carried out to the standard laid down in the manufacturer’s maintenance manual or another approved maintenance schedule. The result of the inspection and any maintenance performed must be entered in the balloon log book.”
That is all that is needed – it is as simple as that. (I then passed around a sheet with this proposed regulation.)

After these remarks there was a noticeable silence and then, up to the first coffee break the discussion was diverted to the overview rather than the line-by-line study of the Part M Light draft which had been planned. The draft Part M Light has a fundamental problem which prevents it from being a good solution to the problem.
Although it offers some alleviation of the heavy and inconvenient requirements of Part M, it still carries the structure from the world of airliners. It is usual with airliners to separate the functions of maintenance and inspection from that of continuing airworthiness administration. This is why we now have a certificate of airworthiness and a further certificate to say that we have the first certificate (the ARC).

This separation is quite foreign to the world of general aviation and its imposition causes much wasted time and fee-charging opportunities to national aviation authorities. The EBF has asked that the Maintenance Programme and the Airworthiness Review Certificate (ARC) be eliminated, but we were told that this is not possible because they are specified in the Basic Regulation. It was then decided that it would be useful for us to produce a parallel statement of what we really believe the regulation for the different disciplines of air sport should be in a perfect world. This would stand side-by-side with making the best of this badly flawed Part M Light draft.

I stated that my draft regulation (see above) that I had circulated would be my proposal for balloons. The other air sports will state something different, but that is as it should be. We all have different needs. But we are united in that we do not want the artificial distinction between inspection and continuing airworthiness. We do not want maintenance programmes and we do not want ARCs.

The rest of the time was spent tweaking the Part M Light draft within the constraints that are imposed on us although we returned to the overview at the end. I thanked Mr Juan Anton for his efforts to reflect our different views – the fault is with the Basic Regulation and the structure of EASA – not with its individual officers.

*Not a single maintenance-related serious accident in 232 years! This is a bold claim and maybe someone out there will provide a counter-example, but even if they do, it is beyond argument that such accidents are extremely uncommon. I can think of only one accident which was due to an unauthorised modification, but that was perhaps not maintenance. The reason is that balloons are much simpler than aeroplanes. Everything is visible and any damage can usually be spotted by the pilot before taking off. Also, unlike aeroplanes, they can land straight away, if any problem occurs.

**The idea of making a CofA voluntary for sport balloons seems almost incomprehensible for those who think that everything must be controlled. It would surely need a large field experiment to know whether it could be safe? Please know that the field experiment has been done. It was the rule for 40 years in the UK where safety was better than elsewhere. The effect of the freedom was that improvements could be tried without bureaucratic hassle. Many innovations were produced by a knowledgeable community of users in addition to the manufacturers and this rapidly improved safety. It also meant that the UK became the leader in balloon design. Almost all the new ideas in hot-air ballooning have come from the UK because of this freedom.