Air authority being audited
International consultants are carrying out an audit of the Irish Aviation Authority's safety and licensing activities following complaints from various organistaions. By Frank Connolly
International consultants reviewing the safety regulations and licensing activities of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) have been told that the IAA has granted licences to pilot instructors who are not properly qualified and that there is a lack of transparency in the manner in which they issue licences.
Aviation analysts McGregor and Co have been brought in to review the IAA's Operating Standards Division following complaints from organisations representing microlight aircraft, paramotoring and balloon enthusiasts and commercial pilots.
The IAA commissioned the review following complaints to Minister for Transport Martin Cullen about the internal procedures of the semi-state agency. The IAA was established in 1994 to ensure that Irish civil aviation operates to international and European safety standards. The IAA, which has a staff of 635, also licenses pilots for a range of aircraft and flying activities. The current audit by McGregor and Co has involved the consultants meeting a range of industry stakeholders in a fundamental review of the IAA's safety regulatory activities due to be completed by mid-May.
Representatives of the microlight, ballooning and paramotoring communities have for several years expressed concern at the manner in which the IAA grants licences and enforces safety and other regulations. Commercial pilots represented by the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (IALPA) also criticised the IAA and last year requested Martin Cullen to commission an external audit of the authority.
Jim Murphy, who represents Irish para-motorists, complained to the IAA that they had failed to stop illegal activity in Irish airspace, that they were issuing licences to unqualified pilot instructors and that they had sought to introduce regulations for paramotoring and paragliding without having the experienced staff to do so.
He claimed that for the past 10 years, the IAA has been aware of a problem of illegal flying in Irish airspace but has done nothing about it.
“This involves every type of aircraft including paramotors, microlights, light aircraft and helicopters. Hundreds of people are flying without a proper licence. The IAA has made it impractical for people to get a licence by over-regulating the industry,” Jim Murphy claimed.
“In the UK you have to complete 15 hours of flying, a basic multi-choice examination and a fly test in order to get your licence to fly microlight. In Ireland, you have to do 45 hours, 12 of which must be with an instructor and then complete a full written exam required to fly a plane. This makes it almost impossible for people to get a licence as they don't have the time or resources to do all of this. People end up going to England to get a licence but these licences are not recognised by the IAA. At the same time, there is no enforcement against those people flying illegally. This poses a threat to public safety,” Jim Murphy said.
The IAA formally apologised to him in August 2005 after he complained about the treatment he received from the authority's Operating Standards Division when he raised concerns about the licensing section. The apology, seen by Village, was made by Eamonn Brennan, the chief executive of the IAA and brother of the Minister for Social Welfare, Seamus Brennan.
The National Microlight Association of Ireland supported Jim Murphy in his complaints about the licensing division of the IAA and has expressed its concerns to the current review by Mc Gregor and Co.
The review team has been asked to prepare an oversight strategy for the period 2007-2012 which can provide for fair, transparent and effective surveillance and regulation of Irish Civil Aviation.
It is also tasked with recommending an appropriate management and staffing structure within the Operating Standards Division of the IAA. The IAA is also under pressure from the European Aviation Safety Agency which is seeking to take control from the aviation authorities of individual member states.
A spokesman for the IAA confirmed that it had commissioned the current review of its Safety Regulation Division and that the consultants had interviewed the authority's staff as well as other external stakeholders. He denied, however, that the review had been triggered by complaints about the operation of the Operating Standards Division and said it followed other audits of the authority's operations in recent years.