Over the last couple of decades there’s been a freeing up of civil aviation in Europe. It’s the reason for that £40 return ticket to a sunny destination, weekend city breaks or an adventure. At the same time, bar a small number of tragic events, it got safer to fly. That’s a remarkable achievement. Each of us can get to more places more cheaply and more safely than ever before. As is human, its easy to take this all for granted as if it would have happened whatever we did. Now, that’s a big mistake. Behind the scenes, huge efforts were made to change aviation and its associated regulation.
Europe has been remarkable successful liberalising markets and getting competition to give the passenger what they need and want. For those of us who remember the mediocre service and high cost of flying with State airlines in the 1980s, the transformation is clear. For the millennial generation who take international traveling as a given its difficult to image a world any different.
So, what has been the key to this achievement? Yes, the entrepreneurial spirt of those who established the low-cost carriers played its part. However, their efforts needed a transformation of the environment in which the business of flying took place. This is where the European Union (EU) has been particularly smart.
The liberalisation of aviation markets as a matter of competition policy is one thing but it’s not enough on its own. Just liberalising markets can be a disaster. It can mean a race to the bottom of the barrel and commercial pressures that chip away at good industry practices.
That’s why regulation is not only beneficial but it’s essential. Now this article will not consider competition policy, but it will discuss aviation safety regulation. Because the civil aviation industry cannot thrive unless safety is a priority.
In Europe, discussions on the establishment of a European aviation safety body date back to as early as 1996, but it was only in 2002 that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was established. The Agency started life in an office in Brussels and then it moved to Cologne in Germany in 2004.
EASA did not come out of thin air. Previously, there was cooperation between the EU and the administrations of many European states within the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). Having realised much in the way of harmonising standards, JAA was a club like organisation and had reached its limits, particularly on the legislative front, for its lack of authority.
The EU’s competences in transport are set out in the EU treaties. These treaties provide the basis for actions the EU institutions can or cannot take. Transport is a ‘shared’ competency. What that means is that either the EU or the Member States may act, but the Member States may be not act once they have acted through the EU. On this front, EASA was established by the Regulation (EC) 1592/2002. It was designed and built on the experiences and cooperation of the former Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). It works with all the national authorities.
With these developments, there’s no doubt consumers have benefited from a wider range of choice, both in locations served and in quality and type of service. Most of all aviation safety is number one.