Geoff wrote these words as his last ‘Deddicated’ column in Microlight Flying, October 2021:
I’ve been looking back over the past 15 years that I have been in this post, and the changes that have happened within the microlight world and the BMAA during that time.
The extension of the deregulated single-seat category, inspired by owners wanting to develop their aircraft without rigid oversight and the understanding that very little additional risk to third parties would result, has been a success. With just two fatal accidents since the category came into play, neither attributed to airworthiness, it seems that common sense is managing the risk.
Flight over built-up areas
The removal of the restriction which prevented microlights from overflight of congested areas, while other permit aircraft were not so restricted, has not led to bits of aircraft raining down on the public. This was one of my first battles. Another organisation negotiating for more light-aircraft permit types had discounted microlights as being inherently less safe. Using its own data, I showed that the chances of a microlight having an airworthiness failure over a built-up area was half that of its light-aircraft types, and the battle was won.
Kits for training
The use of amateur-built microlights for flight training to allow multiple owners to be trained in their own aircraft has made learning to fly less expensive for many. I am still working on a further alleviation to allow non-owners to be trained in amateur-built aircraft, and it will happen, with just the documentation to complete before the system is up and running.
A quiet victory
The removal of archaic noise restrictions which were significantly more restrictive than for any other class of aircraft recognises the development of microlight aircraft design. We really don’t want noisy microlights, which historically led to many of the airfield exclusions in planning permission which still make no sense. However, the scrapping of noise certification now means less expense for manufacturers, which was eventually a cost passed on to the owner in one way or another.
The development and final acceptance of a self-declaration medical that truly reflects the risks to third parties, and can now be shared by non-microlight pilots too, was the result of determined campaigning by the BMAA. In 2016 the CAA had settled on a medical which would have grounded many of our pilots. Obviously this was unacceptable, so again there was a hard-won battle to develop a medical standard which reflects the true risk profile of flying a microlight. It’s a shame that recently the CAA managed to upset the system during the update of its medical record system, but hopefully that is being resolved. One problem that the incident did highlight was the loss of corporate memory within the CAA, as staff members have left. There are many good people in the CAA, but there is also a growing sense of corporate management, by which I mean the loss of aviation knowledge at the top, with a dwindling knowledgeable work- force below.
And of course the headline achievement for us here at Deddington at the moment is the introduction of 600kg microlights. It has taken many years of work by several people within the BMAA to achieve what we now have. Influencing law change is no easy task, but with our determination we have succeeded. We just need the CAA to catch up on the airworthiness requirements and we can really get going.
There have also been significant changes within the BMAA during the period. When I arrived, a significant part of the building was taken up with paper files stored in large cupboards. I calculated that within about five years there would be no floor space left, so in week one we started the job of scanning thousands of paper records to the server and shredding paper. Although we still have a few left, the job is pretty well done now. As well as saving the building from literally tons of paper in storage, it has enabled us to retrieve aircraft files electronically. This in turn has led to the speedy service we can now offer when revalidating a permit to fly, all electronically. Turn-around always aimed at just a few days; now it is usually hours.
And of course we were the first organisation to achieve the A8-26 Airworthiness approval in 2015. This was written for sporting organisations, and we were ready ahead of others. Since we gained the approval, we have added the ability to issue initial permit to fly documents. No other organisation has ever been approved to issue such documents on behalf of the CAA; I believe that this demonstrates the high esteem that we are held in by the CAA, and I know that other organisations see what we have as a goal to aim for.
A word of thanks to the members of staff, particularly in the technical office, for the development of the database to enable us to operate real-time information through the website on the progress of airworthiness applications.
Since the BMAA was formed in 1979 and training requirements were later imposed, we have reviewed pilot certificate and then licence applications. It was frustrating that our recommendations to the CAA to issue a licence, needing no further input from itself, still led to up to 30 days elapsing before issue. A change in the law in 2016 enabled the CAA to authorise us to issue licences on its behalf. It still took a couple of years to encourage the CAA to approve a system which we developed, but finally, and another first in aviation in the UK, we can issue NPPLs with a turnaround of usually two days rather than 30 – another first that other organisations envy.
A great team
Without great staff the BMAA would certainly not be in such a healthy position as it is now. The obviously extreme conditions resulting from Covid made life difficult for all of us: five of the seven members of staff were furloughed, resulting in a loss of earnings and I know extreme frustration that work could not go ahead, while projects such as 600kg were stalled. My special thanks go to Karen Judd, who held the fort and was the first point of contact for our more than 3800 members on a daily basis. Without her perseverance, we would not have been ready for the return to flying and the flood of work that came with it. I feel that I leave the BMAA with a great team with real team spirit, as well as enthusiasm and a deep knowledge and understanding of members’ needs.