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Civil Aviation Authority: Aviation Safety — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:51 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:51 pm, 6th February 2020

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has more detailed knowledge than I do, but that is the sequence of events I have been informed about. His information may well be more accurate than mine, so I will go back and consider his point carefully.

Once both Loganair and Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd had looked into the matter further, they agreed conditions by which the flight could depart under visual flight rules, meaning that there would be no need for an air traffic control service to be deployed. Under that agreement, the flight could depart if the airport fire service was in attendance and if the pilot of the aircraft agreed. The fire services were then recalled to the airport, arriving after the flight had commenced to taxi but before its departure, as the right hon. Gentleman set out. The aircraft departed under visual flight rules and contacted the Scottish area control centre after departure for an air traffic control service. The CAA was alerted immediately by Loganair, and received two separate whistleblower reports in the course of the following week.

The Civil Aviation Authority conducted a review in accordance with its own procedures, interviewing key individuals at both Loganair and Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. After concluding its investigation, the Civil Aviation Authority highlighted its findings with the organisations involved during the summer. The CAA has since held several meetings with the airport to discuss progress. The airport has also conducted its own investigation, and as a result commissioned a study into the findings raised by its own report. The right hon. Gentleman might wish to request that report from the airport company.

I understand and sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman’s wish for the CAA’s report into the Kirkwall incident to be placed in the public domain. The sixth principle of the Government’s regulators’ code—I am getting a bit technical here, for which I apologise—states:

“Regulators should ensure that their approach to their regulatory activities is transparent”.

However, transparency in that sense means regulators setting clear standards for the services that they deliver, not necessarily publishing investigations themselves.

One issue that the Civil Aviation Authority needs to consider when deciding whether to publish the report has to do with trust and openness between the regulator and those it regulates. Aviation bodies need to be confident that, in certain cases and for certain investigations, the information they provide will not be made public. That helps the CAA to fulfil its role of regulating the UK aviation industry and ensuring organisations comply with required safety standards. It might be likened to no-fault reporting in the NHS, where people can admit that something has gone wrong and seek to learn some lessons from it without feeling themselves to be placed in personal professional jeopardy. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the air accidents investigation branch routinely publishes reports. A further consideration in this instance is that the relevant information came through two whistleblower disclosures. It is particularly important that staff feel able to make such sensitive disclosures without suffering adverse consequences.