Aviation is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. The volume of regulation has spread like a cancer and now fills bookcases, compared to the single slim brown book of 40 years ago.
The CAA, as the regulator, may argue that this is necessary to set and maintain standards. However, there is increasingly a case to be made that the growth of civil aviation regulations and technical standards (CARs & CATS) is stifling the industry under this mountain of paperwork and compliance costs. It is an old but sometimes apt joke that CAA stands for the ‘Commission Against Aviation’.
This gives me a strong sense of cognitive dissonance – or discombobulation. The head of the CAA, and thus the person responsible for the malignant spread of CARs, is the otherwise admirable Ms Poppy Khoza, she who regularly wins prizes for her management skills.
She was named the 2016 Public Service Leader of the Year. The CAA was also named the Best Performing Institution in Transport for the third year in a row. It won the Auditor-General’s Clean Audit Award for the fourth year in a row. This means the CAA has managed to comply with the PFMA, National Treasury regulations, instructions, directives and guidelines, and were also prudent in managing its finances. Importantly too, the CAA managed to deliver against its key performance indicators and set targets.
Critics would argue that the competitive bar set by the generally inept government departments is low. With characteristic honesty and frankness, Khoza herself candidly admits, “One may ask, why praise a fish for swimming – a clean audit is what is expected from any entity, especially a public institution.”
And yet, despite all these awards, I can’t avoid the perception that the organisation is failing the very industry it should be nurturing and growing. Apart from developing the civil aviation industry, the CAAs raison d’etre is to ensure South African aviation meets international standards. This is necessary if our pilots’ licences and aircraft maintenance is to be accepted around the world. Specifically, this requires compliance with ICAO standards and recommended practices (SARPs). Normally ICAO adopts a continuous monitoring approach, which should prevent civil aviation authorities from slipping below standard.
Now, however, the SACAA faces a full-blown ICAO audit, and I get the sense that there is a mild panic setting in within the organisation. Thus, they have asked the industry to let them push through yet more regulations, but due to the unseemly rush, without the benefit of the checks and balances that come from the Civil Aviation Regulation Committee (CARCom).
A week before we went to print, I asked the CAA what precipitated an ICAO audit. After a week I hadn’t received a reply. It makes me worry more. But the CAA did call to say that the issues were complex and they would address them at length in the next issue.