Britain’s aviation regulator, granted new powers in the Brexit split, faces an early test of how it uses them with the looming return of Boeing Co’s 737 Max jetliner.
Approval of the Max to fly again after two fatal crashes provides a chance for the Civil
Aviation Authority (CAA) to demonstrate its independence. At the same time it highlights the challenge of carving out a role in a regulatory landscape dominated by the US Federal Aviation Administration, which backed the Max in 2020, and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), set to do so next week.
Early expectations after Britain’s 2016 vote to quit the EU were that the CAA would remain an associate member of EASA. But leaving the European Court of Justice with ultimate jurisdiction was deemed incompatible with the UK aim of recovering sovereign powers from the bloc. Even then, had EASA ruled on the Max before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, the CAA would have been spared such an early test.
“From a practical standpoint the CAA’s task is unprecedented,” said Jan Walulik, who heads the Civil Aviation Laboratory at the Centre for Antitrust and Regulatory Studies, Warsaw.
The CAA will make an independent decision on the Max, while sticking quite closely to the looming EASA directive,
with which it was involved, Assistant Director Jonathan Nicholson said.
It’s likely to follow EASA in allowing pilots to disable an erroneously activated “stick-shaker” alarm to prevent distraction, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be named.
The alarm shakes the control column violently in an emergency, though regulators in
Europe and Canada have questioned whether it could contribute to cockpit crews’ confusion in chaotic moments.
The CAA was established in 1972 and approved aircraft over the next three decades before EASA took over in 2004.
Disruption from the coronavirus pandemic has eased timing pressure tied to the CAA
decision on the Max, with TUI AG, the only airline with jets registered in the UK, having halted holiday flights from the country until mid-February at least.
Ryanair, whose biggest base is at London Stansted, will operate the plane but is awaiting approval of a modified model.