Transparency flies off into the distance

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has the responsibility for ensuring air safety and as such is a Government quango that ultimately is answerable to the general public. Well that’s the idea……

Sadly I’ve received an e-mail from the powers that be at the CAA that in future a lot of Freedom of Information inquiries that they used to answer will now be protected from disclosure by EU regulations. So much for transparency.

I would say that of all the public safety bodies I have experience of it is the one that could most easily be accused of being too close to the organisations it is supposed to oversee and too distant from the concerns of the general public.

When the Russian airliner was downed in Egypt recently it later emerged that a British plane had a near miss with a missile fired by the local military a few weeks before. As the ‘victim’ of this near miss was a British registered plane one can confidently assume that the CAA would have been notified of this event. And isn’t that the sort of thing that if you were booking your holiday you might have wanted to know before spending thousands of pounds?

The CAA keep up a log under the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting (MOR) scheme where British registered airlines have a duty to report incidents that could have an effect on safety.

The catalogue of these incidents has been disclosed by the CAA in the past albeit without the names of the airlines. So in the past I have used it to write stories on the number of planes making emergency landings because of low fuel incidents, the number of planes that have suffered from potentially critical bird strikes, incidents of fumes in the cabin and even cases where pilots have fallen asleep on the job.

Now the CAA is saying new EU rules will make it illegal for it to disclose any details that are logged via the MOR scheme. Effectively it is saying that the EU confidentiality rules trump our FOI laws. They e-mailed me this dispiriting news [CAA2].

I’ve always felt that the CAA was rather pushing its luck not letting us know which airlines regularly flew on the very limit of their fuel or where cabin crew were frequently complaining of being made ill be toxic fumes. But now it seems we will not even be able to know these details.
So much for the public’s or even the customer’s right to know.

If there is anybody out there who thinks that the CAA can be challenged I would love to hear from you…

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