The Dissenters Part 1 – Ian Chadwick’s talk
The term ‘Dissenters’ as we have already mentioned comes from the findings listed in the various Work Stream papers and entitled ‘Dissenting Views’. An very unprofessional word to use in what is supposed to be a consultation amongst Subject Matter Experts. Well to my mind it does re-inforce what the term ‘Expert’ really describes. All this new-age speak! Below then is a prominent Dissenter’s take on the licensing and the way the Consultation was, and is, being handled. When he had finished speaking he nigh on got a very well deserved standing ovation. Over to Ian Chadwick
BBAC SGM – Saturday 13 January 2024 – “A Dissenting View”
I hope that most of you have had the opportunity to read my background article to UK balloon pilot licences in the latest issue of Pilot’s Circular. This has recently also been added to the Easy Balloons website (‘How Complicated can you make licensing-Part1’).
After directly contacting the CAA Chief Executive Officer on behalf of the Panel of Balloon Examiners [PoE], CBA, Cameron Balloons, Lindstrand Technologies, and importantly the members of the BBAC, we appeared to be making some progress towards retaining the UK PPL(BA) and CPL(B). My last correspondence was that there was a General Aviation [GA] review of pilot licences planned to be undertaken in the future, but that CAA would now look to expedite this.
I was quite shocked therefore to find out some months later that the CAA had already commenced Phase 1 of this work, under the title of “Licensing Simplification”, but that there would only be one industry SME from each GA sector allowed at this stage. I was further shocked to learn that the CAA had appointed a member of the BBAC MC as their ballooning SME – the one member that had abstained from the BBAC MC vote to support the PoE pursuing the retention of the PPL(BA) and CPL(B).
I acknowledge that this SME was appointed directly by CAA (not by BBAC), but I asked to be added to the Phase 1 working group, as someone who was strongly supporting the PPL(BA) / CPL(B). This was denied by the CAA, with them stating “only one SME from each GA sector”. Yet, weeks later I learned that they had added another BBAC MC member as a second Phase 1 ballooning SME.
Eventually, three other SMEs, myself from the Examiners, a member of CBA and a well-respected Commercial Balloon Pilot were added right at the end of Phase 1, but only following heavy lobbying at MP and Minister level, to review the two already drafted ballooning specific consultation questions. I did ask for a third question to be added, along the lines of “Which pilot licence architecture would you prefer? The UK ANO CPL(B) & PPL(BA) or the Part-BFCL UK BPL?” Unfortunately, this was not supported by the two original Phase 1 SMEs and was denied by CAA, who told me that “it would be unfair to the 200 balloon pilots who had already transitioned to a BPL” Almost all of this “200” had transitioned due to incorrect earlier advice from the BBAC and they had also retained their PPL(BA) or CPL(B). In fact – (by and large) they were and still are – flying on their UK ANO pilot licence privileges.
It is interesting that the glider (sailplane) sector was asked this very same question in the CAA Phase 1 consultation, yet this question was denied to the ballooning sector.
The Phase 1 consultation was responded to by participants from within all areas of GA and probably by a number of people who were not even GA aviators. Clearly, a vast number of non-balloonists commented on the ballooning specific questions – the total number of questionnaire responses against the total number of balloon specific responses endorse this. This may well have skewed the results in favour of a single pilot licence for private and commercial ballooning rather than separate licences for private and for commercial ballooning. A FOI request lodged with the CAA requesting the proportion of ballooning questions responders who actually held a UK ballooning pilot licence was refused by the CAA, who claimed that they did not have this information! Of course, they did – CAA knew the names of all responders and they created and maintain the UK pilot licensing database!
Phase 2 of the “Licensing Simplification” was sector specific, so a number of SMEs from the balloon sector were assembled. In addition to then original Phase 1 SMEs (two from the BBAC MC and the aforementioned three that were added at the very end of Phase 1), there was the BBAC Training Officer, the BBAC Safety Officer and the [then] BBAC Chairman – although BBAC had to beg the CAA to allow the addition of the Chairman. Although we had been told numerous times that the CAA contingent would be led by the CAA’s Balloon Inspector, this did not prove to be the case and the CAA GA Policy acting Head himself headed the CAA team, with the CAA Balloon Inspector and the CAA’s Head of Licensing Policy as part of the CAA’s team.
At the first meeting, we were directed by the CAA that we were only concerned with the UK BPL and the modification of such, as required. The CAA unilaterally ruled out remaining with the UK PPL(BA) and the UK CPL(B). Now, here we have a problem – EASA had indeed consulted with the ballooning communities of EU states for the Part-BFCL EASA BPL under their RMT.0654. However, this consultation was for the Part-BFCL EASA BPL, which is a completely different pilot licence to the UK BPL that we now have today.
The biggest prize of the Part-BFCL EASA BPL was [example] that a holder 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. [This latter example actually occurred].
However, after the UK left EASA on 30/12/2020, if a licence holder’s Part-FCL BPL or Part-BFCL BPL was issued by the UK CAA, they now had a UK BPL – still an identical pilot licence “on paper”, but one that was now 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) – in so far that it was now a third-country pilot license – nothing more, nothing less. Let me be quite clear here – the UK BPL does not and will not offer the holder any advantages whatsoever when it comes to wishing to fly a balloon in any other European country.
Given that the UK BPL is a very different pilot licence to the Part-BFCL EASA BPL, with the loss of its main benefit, 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). This very question has also been asked twice on social media in recent years (and you all know the result). But, the BBAC has repeatedly refused to ask its members this very important question and the CAA has also failed to consult with its
stakeholders on this very point. A second CAA FOI request has proven that no such consultation with the UK ballooning community at large has ever taken place post leaving EASA. CAA claim that the consultation that EASA undertook means that legally required consultation has been sufficiently undertaken – but that was for a very different BPL with some far-reaching privileges that we now simply no longer have.
This BBAC SGM was called to educate the membership on the Phase 2 “Pilot Licensing Simplification” work and alert you to the forthcoming CAA public consultation. Isn’t it therefore ironic that the most important element of all balloon pilot licensing consultation – whether the UK ballooning sector wishes to progress with the much weaker and less attractive UK BPL, or remain with the long established and worldwide respected UK ANO CPL(B) and PPL(BA) – has seemingly not been undertaken by the CAA, following the UK’s withdrawal from EASA. And some of your BBAC MC don’t want us to talk about this either – the Chairman [when this presentation was being prepared] asked me only this week not to reference the UK ANO pilot licences in my presentation!
Not that the Phase 2 “sticking plaster” exercise is not worthy of a considered response – it most certainly is! But 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)?
Perhaps you all might want to remember this when completing the CAA Phase 2 consultation and remind the CAA of this???
As Colin Butter will have already informed you, the CAA has produced four papers that summarise the work of the WG and the “Work Strands” that CAA directed us to review. These papers will now be used to formulate the questions and probable answers to the coming public consultation, but this CAA work has not yet been completed. We must therefore be very guarded about any “recommended” responses coming out of this meeting.
Remember that the draft consultation questions and answers for the Phase 1 consultation – that I was privileged to see – were then significantly changed within just two weeks when the public consultation was launched. So, please take away much knowledge from today, but carry on listening, reading, learning and – if you like – lobbying. This whole matter is an evolving situation.
Unfortunately, the four CAA documents, which cover five CAA defined “Work Strands”, are not easy reading and seem quite complex in places. Rather ironic when one considers that this should all be about “Licensing Simplification”!
The CAA imply that there was mainly general consensus between the members of the Phase 2 WG. Sadly, I must report that this was often not the case. The CAA Chairman seemed to have fixed ideas about what elements could be discussed by the WG and what could not. One of the SMEs from the BBAC MC tried to do the CAA’s work for them at an early stage of the working group and presented almost everything that the CAA had deemed ‘up for debate’ neatly written up to suit their own agenda. It was only following a strong objection from myself and other SMEs that CAA reasserted their authority, as the Chairperson of this WG.
During the life of the WG, a BBAC MC member attempted to bring the final licence transition deadline forwards rather than pushing for an extension; tried to insist that all UK balloon pilots, including pilots of non-Part-21 balloons (homebuilt balloons), must be forced to convert to a UK BPL; and was (in my opinion) quite rude in their attitude to other SMEs who were pursuing an alternative point of view, even when said point of view was that of the majority of UK balloonists. It was not a pleasant WG to be participating in and one of my fellow SMEs – who is a well-respected airline pilot – even commented that this was the worst WG that he had ever had to participate in.
Within each of these “Work Strand” reports there is regular reference to “Dissenting Views”. This is a CAA choice of term, of which I have twice objected. The term “dissenting” is a provocative term and perhaps “alternate” might have been a better description. “Dissenting” suggests a wish to not conform to a widely held view. However, given that my views seemed to regularly fall within this category, I have chosen “A Dissenting View” as the title of my presentation today.
Also, within each “Work Strand” reports there are some CAA suggested questions and choice of answers. Firstly, these questions, as currently written, will almost certainly change by the time of the public consultation, as hopefully will the answer choices.
Currently, many questions relating to the Phase 2 suggested amendments ask you if you agree to the proposals or if you want to remain with the existing UK BPL. And here we have another problem, because the vast majority of you are currently flying under, or training towards, a PPL(BA) or CPL(B), so have no ‘first-hand’ experience of the existing UK BPL. Irrespective as to whether the CAA has any intentions of remaining with the UK PPL(BA) and CPL(B), an additional answer choice for every single question in the coming public consultation should be: “No – I wish to remain with my UK CPL(B) / UK PPL(BA)”. This will at least allow the perceived strength of feeling out there to be brought to the attention of the CAA.
I call on BBAC members to lobby the BBAC MC to demand this of the CAA. I also call on UK balloonists who feel the same to lobby the CAA, the DfT, their MPs and even Ministers over this matter.
Work Strand 1 – Commercial Balloon Pilot Licensing
I will briefly touch on this “Work Strand”, but would prefer Cary Crawley or Steve Richards to cover it in more detail.
If we must have a single pilot licence for private and commercial ballooning, with ratings, then the requirements for the private side will naturally be higher than the PPL(BA) is and the requirements for the commercial side will naturally be lower than the CPL(B) is. That is inevitable.
But, on the commercial side, a stronger differentiation between the requirements for Commercial Operations [Aerial Work] and Commercial Passenger Ballooning [CPB] is required.
Commercial Operations [Aerial Work] – the key elements here are:
• Tethering a Group A balloon, maybe a special shape, in (probably) less than ideal conditions, before an audience;
• Possible tethered rides to the event’s guests; and
• Possible sponsor’s guests flights, perhaps originating from an aforementioned event.
Therefore, an advanced knowledge and practical application of tethering is required, plus operating in weather conditions closer to the balloon’s limitations.
Commercial Passenger Ballooning [CPB] – the key elements here are:
• The safety of all fare paying passengers and the uninvolved general public on the ground.
• Ability and knowledge to operate the passenger balloon to the highest of standards.
• Professional level knowledge of ballooning, the weather, flight planning, navigation and airmanship.
• The strength of character to recognise when not to fly and to execute that decision.
For these (and more) reasons, I support the idea of two separate commercial ratings, one for A/W and one for CPB. Requiring 100 hours as PIC for CPB seems reasonable to me.
There are 4 balloon groups within Part-BFCL and of course 3 groups within the UK CPL(B). BPL Group B seems to me to be a very small sized group, but I struggle to get too excited over the group sizes and break points, as there are other more important elements to consider.
One of these is the frequency of proficiency checks, since the ANO requires these every 13 months for the CPL(B), and Part-BFCL every 24 months for the BPL. To my knowledge, there are very few countries outside of Europe where – for CPB – a check flight with an examiner, or the company Chief Pilot, is not undertaken annually. In the event of an accident investigation, I fear that not having had any form of check flight for nearly two years will not be viewed favourably by accident investigators.
In the UK, we tend to combine the LPC (a Pilot Licensing requirement) and the OPC (a DBO / Operator requirement). Perhaps making the latter an annual requirement whilst retaining the former at two years might be worthy of further consideration. Unfortunately, the CAA never replied to my suggestion on this point.
Work Strand 2 – Instructor and examiner requirements for instructing and examining pilots seeking the Balloon licence and/or ratings
Firstly, it is critical to state that there is no shortage of availability from the existing FEs. A couple of BBAC members have been critical on lack of available FEs, but many examiners report that they annually receive few enquiries for their services. This also goes for revalidating and appointing other FEs and appointing new BBAC FIs. As an example, the only time that I personally had a waiting list for check flights in 2023 was at the end of the season, early October, when 6 candidates all suddenly wanted my service. 4 were successfully obliged and 1 subsequently has been sorted. Many examiners will drive significant distances to facilitate their candidates.
Senior Examiners (a Part-BFCL term) / RETRE(B)s (a UK ANO term) are selected and appointed by the CAA on an “as required” basis. For decades there have been 4 SEs, ideally each in a different part of the UK. The SEs are tasked with managing examiner standardisation & quality and report to the CAA’s Training Inspector (Balloons) – a CAA position that has in fact been vacant since 2018. Currently, there are 5 SEs and – to ensure examiner standardisation whilst also ensuring sufficient examiner checks for each SE – this figure is probably about right.
The minimum hours required to apply to become a ballooning FE under Part-BFCL is much lower than under the UK ANO. Fortunately, most of the Phase 2 WG agreed to this being increased to a similar amount that the ANO requires.
Currently, FIs are selected, trained and appointed by the BBAC under a devolvement from the CAA. Part-BFCL removes this and creates only CAA appointed FIs. This will make it much harder for future balloon pilots to become balloon FIs, and much more expensive too. It also goes completely against the CAA’s own high-level policy, which is to devolve or deregulate where possible, and there is no strong safety case to support this change.
Unfortunately, Part-BFCL training requirements for FIs at different levels are extremely prescribed. This is going to lead to the future BBAC DTO (or other ballooning DTOs) having to develop a number of training courses, which will also result in extra costs all round.
The Phase 2 WG has agreed that, as per the UK PPL(BA), only a minimum of 4 training flights need to be with a FI, but this “Work Strand” introduces a requirement for Assistant Instructors, which several of us on the WG are completely against.
There is no good safety reason not to allow 75% of balloon training to be with any qualified pilot who holds, say, at least 50 hours PIC. Balloon training simply is not like fixed-winged and helicopter flying clubs – a crew-person or friend might start getting more interested in ballooning and, before you know it, they have started training towards a pilot licence! Almost all “grass roots” balloonists do not want to be bothered with this AI idea, which will also add significant cost to learning to fly. Again, there is no safety statistics to support this proposed additional red tape!
The requirement for a DTO itself is an enormous amount of “gold plating” over the current BBAC Training Office needed for the PPL(BA). Again, this also goes completely against the CAA’s own high-level policy, which is to devolve or deregulate where possible, and there is no strong safety case to support this change. The DTO will need a central office that will micro-manage every element of a student’s training, including whether he/she is allowed to attempt TK exams! How completely crazy! The student themselves and their trainer pilot / FI are by far the best placed so to decide this.
The DTO will require students to submit full details of every training flight to their central office for analysis! Why? How does this add value? It will most certainly add costs! Also, is this the right thing to be doing, in this GDPR world that we now live in? Is the information really necessary? How long should it be allowed to be retained for?
Current student pilots (for the PPL(BA)) may also have been asked to submit information on a flight-by-flight basis to the BBAC DTO / members of the BBAC Training Office. I have even heard of examples of officers of the BBAC chasing students for this information. Please could everyone be aware that there is absolutely no requirement under the UK ANO for students who are training towards a UK PPL(BA) pilot licence to submit any data whatsoever to the BBAC DTO. I have checked this with Richard Allen, CAA Balloon Inspector, and would strongly advise candidates not to copy any flight by flight training reports to the BBAC DTO. However, following successful completion of training, I would encourage students to send their BBAC Training Logbook to the BBAC Training Office for statistical analysis; but ensure that the BBAC Head of Training returns your logbook to you – it is your property, not theirs!
So, why has the CAA decided to go completely against their own high-level policy and take back control of balloon training and appointment and management of balloon FIs? And why are the BBAC MC SMEs on the WG not asking the same questions that I am asking? What is the BBAC memberships’ opinion here?
Work Strand 3 – Pilot requirements for the base Balloon Pilot Licence and associated ratings
This paper starts with a CAA statement that “of particular focus was ensuring that the requirements reflect best practice for the UK”. Define “best practice” in this context CAA? The CAA also state “The WG found that the Part-BFCL regulations were largely satisfactory…”. This was most certainly not the case for some of us SMEs.
The paper chooses to ignore many of the “gold plating” and “red tape” issues that I had formally raised in a paper for the WG. In fairness, some have been part-accepted, like a maximum age limit and all training needing to be with FIs, but more of that later.
What has not been included by the CAA are:
• The BPL requirement for a flight with a FI every 48 months against no such requirement under the PPL(BA).
• FIs being appointed and managed by CAA, not devolved to BBAC, (see Work Strand 2).
• All training being managed through a CAA audited DTO rather than being devolved to BBAC, (see Work Strand 2).
• Potential enforcement of a BPL on balloon pilots of non-Part-21 balloons – which are, by definition ANO regulated balloons, (see Work Strand 4).
All of these are clear examples of “gold plating” and all will lead to extra cost for all of us within ballooning. As such, we must strongly challenge this CAA “red tape”.
One of the most controversial WG ideas is that of Assistant Instructors [AIs] that I covered under “Work Strand” 2, but there is also a potential question in “Work Strand” 3 on AIs. At paragraph 15 the CAA state “It is necessary … to stipulate ‘with the remainder undertaken with an Assistant Instructor’, if that was created, to avoid creating a loophole through which any qualified pilot could supervise the remainder of the instruction”. Well done CAA, you have just described exactly what has worked fine for UK balloon pilot training over the past 50 years, and you now want to stop this, without any supporting safety evidence whatsoever! Why??? Any pilot over 50 hours PIC is completely adequate – scrap this awful AI idea straight away! If CAA quoted figures are correct, there will not be enough AIs to cover the number of training flights required anyway.
The CAA go on to state that there were no dissenting views here! I think that you will now have worked out that they might have made a typographical error here!
The tethering requirement is another “sticking plaster” to reverse another weakness in Part-BFCL that was already correct in the UK PPL(BA) and CPL(B). Whilst in agreement, lets not forget the enhanced tethering skills that are required to undertake Commercial Operations [Aerial Work].
Work Strand 4: Licensing for Non-Part-21 Balloons & Work Strand 5: Embedding ‘BPL 2025’ (single paper).
“Work Strand 4” begins with the repeated threat that all holders of a PPL(BA) or CPL(B) must convert to a UK BPL by September 2025. But where did the date of September 2025 come from? I have personally twice written to the CAA asking them to revise / delay their “deadline” date, as it had become unachievable. In both cases, CAA eventually enacted my suggestion. However, in the latter case I had requested December 2025 and they decided to extend only until December 2024, claiming that other sector SMEs had claimed that this was ample time. The CAA later unilaterally extended it to September 2025. I immediately questioned this and was told that the CAA Acting Head of GA Policy – the same person who headed the Ballooning Phase 2 WG – and someone who has never even had a balloon flight – had decided that September 2025 was adequate time. But, September is in the middle of the UK flying season!
Now, CAA are demanding that balloon pilots transition early, prior to September 2025, in order to avoid “resource pressures in the CAA Shared Services Centre” and “CAA will not take responsibility for any gaps in privileges caused by any processing delays”. Unbelievable!!!
So, we all have to pay the CAA a fee to convert from our “valid for life” PPL(BA) or CPL(B) (that the majority of us are quite happy with) to a BPL that is more complex and potentially less safe, that the majority of us don’t want!!! Are the CAA living in the real world?
This “Work Strand” then details the scope of this licensing project. Please read this carefully, you will not find the word “safety” mentioned in there anywhere!
Most of the Phase 2 WG SMEs, including all but one of the BBAC MC SMEs, fully expected the CAA to agree to “deem valid” all PPL(BA)s & CPL(B)s – so that pilots could retain their CPL(B) or PPL(BA), and that it would be “deemed valid” as an equivalent UK BPL. In fact, this could have been a good way for CAA to “sweeten the blow” of the enforced implementation of the BPL. But, no, CAA will not do this due to a legal nicety which requires the involvement of “big brother” the DfT. CAA seem to run very scared of the DfT!
The CAA consider that the resources that DfT would require are disproportionate to the “relatively small number of licence holders yet to convert their licences” and “deeming valid would be unfair on the several hundred ANO licence holders who have already gone through the time and the cost of converting their ANO licence to a BPL”.
So where are these “several hundred”? Let’s subtract from this number those that hold a BPL but are only currently using their PPL(BA) or their CPL(B). Let’s subtract anyone who gives any form of training right now, as all current student pilots are training towards the PPL(BA), not the UK BPL. Let’s subtract all of those who previously transitioned only due to the previous bad advice from the BBAC MC. So how many are we really left with? And for the benefit of these few, the CAA are going to effectively destroy UK ballooning!!!
CAA also quote a worry that DfT might not be able to fit “deemed valid” in time for the September 2025 deadline. But wait, the September 2025 deadline is the deadline set by DfT and CAA in the first place! Ever felt that you had a gun to your heads!!!
Let’s now move to non-Part-21 balloons – homebuilt and one-off balloons – sometimes still referred to as “Annex” balloons. Remember that these are balloons that are excluded from what was “EASA aircraft” and what are now “Part-21 aircraft”. So, these balloons are not subject to all of this licensing fiasco, since they are Air Navigation Order through and through! Well, you would like to think so!
One of the BBAC MC SMEs on the working group has been continuously stating that “for simplicity” there should just be one pilot licence for all UK balloon pilots – the UK BPL. But, this cuts across everything that non-Part-21 stands for and, in this instance, almost all of the other industry SMEs support the retention of the PPL(BA) for non-Part-21 balloon owners.
Unfortunately, one of the BBAC MC SMEs reminded the CAA that any training is deemed a commercial activity for the purpose of airworthiness (and irrespective as to whether any payment is made). So, one can’t train or test on a non-Part-21 balloon. Hmmm, I have myself undertaken several examination flights on non-Part-21 balloons, as have other examiners. Have any of these led to a UK balloon licence not being issued? No, never!
But, CAA claim that it will be legally impossible for any new pilot to attain a PPL(BA) after September 2025 and a UK BPL is “deemed valid” as a PPL(BA) ANO pilot licence for non-Part-21 balloons anyway. Hang on – note that CAA are very happy to use “deemed valid” when it suits their own political objectives!
So, CAA are grudgingly offering the PPL(BA) to remain valid for non-Part-21 balloons only after September 2025 – and only for existing licence holders. But, CAA want to implement what they call “a honeymoon period”, meaning that after a defined period even non-Part-21 balloon pilots will all need to hold a UK BPL. However, they are obliged to offer an alternative answer “for as long as the holder maintains validity”. Please do vote for that.
There was a “deemed valid” question in the Phase 1 public consultation, but this did not directly apply to the ballooning sector. CAA expected responders not to support “deemed valid”, but the vast majority did. CAA really do not like “deemed valid”, which is why we should fight them all the way for “deemed valid” also to be available to ALL UK balloon pilots, irrespective as to which airworthiness category of balloon a pilot wishes to fly.
Work Strand 5 – Given that I am unable to support the UK BPL, I am not about to make comment about “Embedding ‘BPL 2025’”, other than to note that this report is 6½ pages long and even I find it so complex that I quickly loose the will to live! So much for “Licensing Simplification”.
I hope that this presentation has offered some alternative considerations for you to think about. As UK balloonists, each and every one of us are the ones who “own” ballooning in the UK, not the CAA.
The licnces are there to ensure we operate safely and do not present a safety risk to third parties (both in the air and on the ground). The CAA are unilaterally forcing upon us a much more complex and potentially less safe balloon pilot licence under their “Licensing Simplification programme”