The pace of change in the aviation industry has “never been greater” and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is investing significant resources to ensure the regulator can keep up, chair of the organisation Sir Stephen Hillier said.

Speaking during the Farnborough International Airshow, the Chief of the Air Staff from 2016 to 2019 said the sector was transitioning on multiple fronts, from the development of uncrewed aircraft to progress on sustainability.

“The pace [of change] has never been greater, that’s based on my 43 years experience of being in the sector,” he said.

“We’re changing character, more unproved systems, more potentially autonomous systems, and in addition to those … is that previously what might have taken the years and years to design and then to bring into service, that timescale is much shorter, and that’s going to require a different response from the regulator.”

Embracing change

He continued: “What have we done about it? Clearly we recognise this, we are investing significantly in the resources that we need to grapple this challenge.”

Part of that shift is addressing the political, social and economic pressure to make flying more sustainable.

Sir Stephen said: “We’ve now got our greatest challenge, which is ensuring we have a sustainable enterprise, one which can decarbonise and ensure that we can continue to have safe and sustainable aviation going into the future.

“So these are tough and challenging times. The regulator has its part to play, the industry has their part ot play, government policy has a part to play. It’s going to require us all to work together to make this good.”

Brexit headache

Commenting on the challenge the UK faces in operating in an ever-more connected world after Brexit severed ties with many European institutions, including the UK’s membership of EASA, the former Tornado GR4 pilot and flying instructor said: “It’s a really significant issue and one that we continue to work very hard on.

“We want to continue having the strongest possible relationships with EASA, with the FAA in the US and indeed with partners across the world.”

In the wake of the Covid pandemic the global aviation industry has struggled with staff recruitment, leading to delays and disruption that came to a head over the summer months.

Airport disruption

Sir Stephen acknowledged the challenges faced by airports, airlines and the wider ecosystem, and said the CAA had a part to play in resolving them.

“We’re seeing those challenges quite clearly and the CAA is acutely conscious of the disruption caused to consumers and we have duties to look after consumers’ interests,” he said.

“So we are heavily engaged in dealing with that and trying to play our part, working with government, working alongside the sector as well, to play our part in trying to ensure that that recovery becomes properly sustainable and we minimise the disruption to consumers.

“All the way along, ensuring that the CAA continues to perform its primary duty which is to ensure that the enterprise remains safe and that aviation security is also properly looked after – but I do not underestimate the challenges going forward.”
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