We are blessed with people like Ian Chadwick who, for many years monitored, defended, supported, fought EASA and occasionally chastised pilots. I wonder if we can get him a BBAC gong? Herewith is his brief history of the licensing route to disaster. Following this is his (very reasoned and agreed with by many) take on the facts. This is important reading but please use both pieces to form the basis and discussion with other pilots, potential pilots and those currently training. You may or may not agree but to form an opinion it is fair to say you do need the facts. You also need to hear all sides of the argument but as over 80% of balloonists voted to retain the UK PPL (transcribe that into the new regulation if you feel thus) then I feel the balance of opinion is well reflected in Ian’s take on the current state of play. Thankyou. Please read on. Forward Ho Ian.
UK Balloon Pilot Licences – Background
The potential enforced (by UK Department for Transport [DfT]) conversion from a UK CPL(B) or UK PPL(BA) to a Balloon Pilot Licence [BPL] has been ongoing for some years now. The BBAC has called a Special General Meeting [SGM] to consider matters prior to an impending CAA “public consultation” on the output of Phase 2 of the CAA’s Licensing Simplification ballooning workstream.
In order to be as prepared as possible for the BBAC SGM and the CAA consultation, this document attempts to review the background of how we got to where we are today. Whilst every attempt has been made to provide factual information in order to assist the reader in making their own informed decisions, it is sometimes impossible not to portray an opinion. Any such opinions portrayed within this article are that of the author alone and do not imply the opinion of the BBAC, CBA, Panel of Balloon Examiners, or any other entity.
Pilot licensing for many different categories of aircraft stems from the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation [ICAO], who are based in Montreal, Canada. ICAO’s Annex 1 specifically deals with pilot licences. All three of the UK CPL(B), the UK PPL(BA) and the BPL are in fact fully ICAO compliant, except for medical requirements when a lower than a Class 2 medical is allowed and is held. So, a self-declared medical or a LAPL medical certificate are not ICAO compliant, meaning that they are “sub-ICAO”. This is fine if your own National Aviation Authority [NAA] – CAA in our case – deems them valid for national purposes, but there may then be a potential problem if you wish to fly a balloon overseas.
It should also be noted that whilst ICAO Annex 1 lists the requirements for a balloon pilot licence, it does not list the requirements for a commercial balloon pilot licence. This is perhaps not surprising, since commercial ballooning did not really become relevant until the late 1980s and the ICAO Annexes have existed for many decades. However, the UK CAA made a formal proposal to ICAO to add a CPL (Balloons) to Annex 1 in the late 90s or early 00s. This was formally debated at a worldwide ICAO convention and then voted upon. The UK proposal was narrowly defeated; however, it should be born in mind that the majority of ICAO contracting states had no ballooning experience whatsoever at that time, and absolutely no concept of what Commercial Passenger Ballooning [CPB] entails. ICAO works on one state one vote, so it is easy to see how this UK proposal was defeated. But the fact that the UK CAA took this proposal to ICAO demonstrates how important the CAA considered the CPL(B) pilot licence at that time.
Then, along came the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA]……
EASA was formed by the European Union, but the UK was actually one of the driving forces in its formative period and actually bid for EASA to be UK based. The European Commission decide that there were already ample EU organisations based in the UK and awarded “Aviation” to Cologne, Germany. The European Commission created a Basic Regulation for EASA, which detailed, amongst other things, which aircraft were going to be covered by EU wide rules and regulations and which aircraft would remain under individual state control. The former were known as “EASA Aircraft” and the latter as “non-EASA”, “EASA Annex 2”, or later “Annex 1”. Whilst most ultralight and microlight aeroplanes, helicopters and almost all gyroplanes became non-EASA, almost all production balloons and airships became EASA Aircraft, which was a great shame for the smaller end of ballooning.
First EASA took over airworthiness requirements, then air operations and finally flight crew licensing. This, of course, took a significant period of years. For balloons and also for gliders [EASA call these Sailplanes], the newly created Part-OPS and Part-FCL were deemed much too involved or restrictive for what were relatively simple flying machines. Hence, further working groups, sector specific this time, were set up by EASA and the end result (for ballooning) was the Balloon Rulebook, with Part-BOP for Air Operations and Part-BFCL for pilot licensing.
The working groups consisted of representatives from all over EASA states, so were by necessity a compromise. A lot of “horse trading” went on and it quickly became apparent that there were areas where one was likely to win and lose. Unfortunately, balloonists in many EASA states were still operating CPB with no NAA oversight whatsoever, so the opportunity to pursue a separate CPL(B) was not a “win” that the UK could achieve. Notwithstanding, the UK contingent achieved the best outcome possible and this then led to the initial creation of Part-BFCL.
It is very important to note that EASA consulted on an EU wide basis and, to even be aware of such consultation, one had to be registered with EASA. Also, EASA considered comments from all EASA member states, so a unique requirement / concern to specifically the UK would be seriously swamped by responses from many other states. That said, the “compromise” that became the Part-BFCL BPL was probably the best outcome that could be achieved. The biggest prize being that one could have a Class 2 medical in the UK, hold a UK issued Part-BFCL BPL, and fly a Dutch registered balloon in Portugal. Also, albeit with a little pre-organising required, a UK Senior Examiner could revalidate a Finnish Flight Examiner who was examining a Swiss licenced BPL pilot.
So, it is fair to state that EASA did consult with the GA communities, but the pilot licence privileges that were offered included that detailed above. As such, a small number of UK licenced balloon pilots transitioned to the EASA BPL (whilst normally also retaining their UK PPL(BA) / UK CPL(B)). But, partway through the transitioning period came a double-whammy – COVID-19 and Brexit…
Brexit and COVID-19
We all, in the UK, knew that Brexit was about to happen following the result of David Cameron’s national referendum. However, it looked very much like we would experience a “soft Brexit” until the UK experienced a change in its Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the unexpected arrival of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 meant that throughout that year we all did very little ballooning and were more concerned as to whether we would even see 2021 and beyond! Sadly, at the same time the UK aviation sector was seriously affected by the UK government’s revised Brexit plan, which was that of a “hard Brexit”. Of course, we knew that we were leaving the EU, but on 31 December 2020 the UK also left EASA.
There are several EASA member states that are not part of the EU. However, these states tend to be smaller entities and have no input into future EASA rulemaking, but are committed to implement all EASA rules, regulations and amendments. The UK government decided that this would not be possible for the UK and that part of Brexit meant that we were taking back full control of our own rules and regulations.
Leaving EASA meant that on 1 January 2021 the Part-BFCL BPL became the UK BPL – still an identical pilot licence, but one that was now was no longer recognised as a Part-BFCL BPL by any of the remaining EASA member states. Worse, all of the previously mentioned benefits were instantly lost to UK BPL holders and the UK BPL effectively became identical to the UK PPL(BA) and UK CPL(B) – a third-country pilot license – nothing more, nothing less. For the avoidance of doubt, if your Part-FCL BPL or Part-BFCL BPL was issued by the UK CAA, you now had a UK BPL.
Of course, there had been a narrow window when one could move one’s medical records, and hence pilot licence(s) to another EASA state, but this was in late 2020 when COVID was everywhere, so we were all a bit preoccupied! Also, most of CAA were off sick, or working from home, so the process literally took months. What was not completed on 31 December 2020 simply did not get actioned!
It therefore occurred to me in early 2021 that the main advantages of the Part-BFCL BPL over the UK CPL(B) and/or UK PPL(BA) had been lost and I therefore revisited the pros and cons of this very different UK BPL (that we now found ourselves with) against the CPL(B) / PPL(BA). For many reasons, I personally concluded that if we must have Brexit and we must leave EASA, then the CPL(B) / PPL(BA) offered many more advantages, opportunities and (dare I say it) safety over this new and different UK BPL.
Sadly, CAA saw things somewhat differently and simply imported all EU aviation law into new British law, seemingly oblivious to the fact that these new UK only pilot licences had instantly lost their main advantage – the ability to use anywhere in the EU and EASA states and to fly an aircraft registered in any of them! “Hard” Brexit “talk” that now was the time for the UK to re-write its own rules seemingly fell on deaf ears within our own CAA, who – as far as ballooning is concerned – will not even consider reverting to the UK ANO CPL(B) and PPL(BA), even though they are well aware that this is what a significant proportion of UK balloonists would prefer.
Do you think that the CAA should have undertaken a full consultation on whether we (in the case of the ballooning sector) wished to continue with the now much weaker and less attractive UK BPL or revert to the long-established UK PPL(BA) / UK CPL(B)? Most definitely in the opinion of many, since the UK BPL had lost the main advantages of its very existence. However, such consultation has never occurred. CAA claim that this consultation occurred before the commencement of their “GA Pilot Licence Simplification” project, but the only such consultation was through EASA and for a very different BPL than we now find ourselves with in the UK.
Panel of Balloon Examiners Involvement
With the CAA continuing to pursue transitioning the UK ballooning sector to the UK BPL, the BBAC advised its members that they would have to transition to the new licence. As the Chairman of the Panel of Balloon Examiners, I suggested that it was worth further engagement with CAA and the Commercial Balloon Association [CBA], Cameron Balloons and Lindstrand Technologies all endorsed this initiative. The BBAC Main Committee [MC] were asked to also support us and 9 of the 10 then MC members also voted in support. I therefore engaged with the then CAA Chief Executive Officer [CEO] and senior CAA Policy leaders were instructed to urgently review matters.
This quickly led to an accelerated introduction of the CAA’s “GA Pilot Licence Simplification” project. However, Phase 1 was undertaken as a single working group for the whole of General Aviation and only one subject matter expert from each GA aviation sector was invited to participate.
CAA GA Pilot Licence Simplification” Project – Phase 1
Towards the end of Phase 1 of the “GA Pilot Licence Simplification” project, a few other ballooning SMEs were invited to consider the wording of two ballooning specific questions. Unfortunately, prior to this, the work of the Phase 1 team seemed to many to be conducted “behind closed doors”. The eventual Phase 1 public consultation asked carefully chosen questions and nominal answers. These were not easy to respond to, for example the numbering of the answers was not the same as the numbering of the questions! Unfortunately, anyone from any area of aviation, or even from completely outside of aviation, could submit their opinions to each and every question, leading to many more responses to the ballooning specific questions than came from balloonists. These responses were then the only consideration in the CAA directing the Phase 2 sector specific working group members of the CAA’s unilateral agenda for Phase 2.
CAA GA Pilot Licence Simplification” Project – Phase 2
The CAA convened a ballooning sector sub-group for Phase 2, this time with several SMEs being invited. The SMEs included members of the BBAC Main Committee, the Panel of Balloon Examiners, the CBA, the BBAC Safety team and commercial ballooning. Several Microsoft Teams meetings were held and there was agreement on some matters and disagreement on others.
The CAA team, including the Chairman of the working group, have recently completed the final versions of four working group papers. These will form the basis of the next round of CAA public consultation.
So, when the CAA launch their “GA Pilot Licence Simplification Phase 2 Public Consultation”, I am sure that there will be some very carefully scripted questions and answers that avoid what many UK balloonists really want to be asked. But, remember that the scripted questions and answers can be used to raise other questions and concerns by careful use of any free-text boxes.
But, first, please attend the BBAC’s Special General Meeting on 13 January 2024. Please listen to the thoughts of several of the Phase 2 SMEs and do ask questions. Do not be afraid to ask difficult questions. Become as informed as possible, then please complete the CAA’s consultation (when published). For too long, there has been an underlying attitude in UK ballooning that “someone else will complete this, so why do I need to”, or what is the BBAC’s scripted recommended response? The only way forward here is for all UK balloonists to become as informed as is possible and then help to shape your ballooning future based on evidence that you have considered yourselves.
And following on – how not to simplify Licensing
[Ed] The CAA started a thing called the ‘Red Tape Challenge’ then moved on to, ‘Removing Gold Plating’. Now this philosophy has become ‘The Licence Simplification ’. Originally these seemed to be quite passionate routes that the CAA wanted to follow. Sadly the first two failed and now the latest incarnation is also not stacking up. There seems to be nothing in the proposed regulations concerning licensing that simplifies or reduces costs. Best you be the judge but here are some more words of balanced wisdom from Ian.
Gold Plating and Red Tape Challenge considerations with regard to the UK BPL – non commercial
- The Balloon Pilot Licence [BPL] developed by the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] was necessarily an amalgam of compromises of preferred regulations representing the vested interests of the individual EASA member states whose experience in appropriate legislation for commercial and private balloon operation varied from highly developed to extremely limited.
- The UK Private Pilot Licence (Balloons & Airships) [PPL(BA)] has been established for 50 years and the UK Commercial Pilot Licence (Balloons) [CPL(B)] for over 30 years. They are both ICAO compliant pilot licences that are completely fit for purpose and are considered two of the world’s leading balloon pilot licences.
- An EASA BPL is currently valid in all EU states, to fly balloons registered in all EU states. One can examine / be examined in any EU state and legally operate in any EU state. Following the UK leaving EASA on 31 December 2020, a UK BPL is valid only in the UK and will not be recognised throughout the EU as anything other than a “third country” licence. It will legally only enjoy the same recognition as the UK CPL(B) and the UK PPL(BA).
- The UK BPL tries to be both a commercial balloon pilot’s licence and a private balloon pilot’s licence. This is a significant weakness as a commercial balloon pilot’s licence needs strong oversight from the National Aviation Authority. Whereas, a private balloon pilot’s licence should be regulated in a lighter manner but within the confines of reasonable safety.
- There are however safety statistics to support the need for regular licensing proficiency checks for commercial ballooning. The BPL provides for a much more relaxed check procedure for commercial pilots, which we believe offers a potential degradation in safety standards.
- The CAA must ensure the safety assurance of fare paying passengers and third parties as per their Mission Statement. An average of 40,000 fare paying passengers per year enjoy a commercial passenger balloon flight within the UK.
- We are unaware of any safety statistics that prove the PPL(BA) has caused an unsafe UK private ballooning sector over the past half century. Rather, the UK ballooning sector has an excellent safety record. The BPL requires previously unmandated checks for private pilots and student pilots (“gold plating”), for example a requirement to undertake a flight with a CAA appointed Flight Instructor [FI] every four years, which will add significant cost in the future with no evidence of increased safety. – Red Tape Challenge.
- Training towards the UK PPL(BA) has always been possible with any appropriately qualified balloon pilot holding a specified minimum number of hours offering the training (except for a minimum of 4 training flights which must be with a British Balloon & Airship Club [BBAC] appointed Flight Instructor). All training towards a UK BPL must be with CAA appointed Flight Instructors, or the CAA’s newfangled idea of Assistant Instructors. This will add significant cost to future students with no evidence of increased safety. – Red Tape Challenge.
- The appointment and management of Flight Instructors [FIs] for the PPL(BA) is devolved to the BBAC and has been for over 40 years. Under the BPL, CAA are removing this and returning the appointment and management of FIs to their own control. CAA high level policy is to devolve or deregulate where possible. However, with no safety evidence to support a more restrictive requirement here, CAA are going directly against their own mandate. This will make becoming and maintaining a FI much more expensive, which will in turn add further expense to student balloon pilots. It is also yet another example of CAA gold plating. – Red Tape Challenge.
- All training towards a UK BPL must be undertaken through a CAA audited Declared Training Organisation [DTO], whereas training towards a UK PPL(BA) simply requires the student to maintain a BBAC Training Logbook throughout training, which is then forwarded to the BBAC Training Officer for statistical review following successful completion of training. The requirement of a DTO and of CAA appointed FIs is in direct conflict with UK CAA’s mission statement to only regulate where necessary and to delegate or devolve where possible. This will add significant cost to future students with no evidence of increased safety. – Red Tape Challenge.
- The UK PPL(BA) remains the required balloon pilot licence for non-Part-21 / non-EASA / Annex I (to the Basic Regulation) balloons. This is legally quite correct, as these balloons are excluded from aircraft that are regulated by EASA / EU retained regulations. The pilots of most UK registered non-Part-21 balloons do not wish to hold a UK BPL and wish to continue to operate their balloons in accordance with a UK PPL(BA). Yet, some on this working group want to enforce the UK BPL on all UK balloon pilots! Many of these pilots have stated that they would give up ballooning before being forced to transition to a pilot licence that is intended for Part-21 / EASA balloons. There is no safety case whatsoever for CAA to pursue this pilot licence for ANO regulated balloon operations. – Red Tape Challenge.
- There may be further examples of Gold Plating / Red Tape Challenge in addition to those covered in this paper. However, absolutely no Gold Plating / Red Tape Challenge elements of the UK BPL (non-commercial) over the UK PPL(BA) must be allowed to remain without a strong safety case that has been tested through the appropriate channels.