The CAA says: ‘Why not?’
The Malone Column Castigated by many, this time the CAA has listened and got it right
At the turn of the year a short statement came out of the CAA saying it had issued autogyro night ratings to two pilots. Accompanying the statement was a picture of three men, two of them holding pieces of paper which must have been the ratings in question.
That statement, and photograph, tell you more about the CAA today than all the paperwork that’s come out of Kingsway in a generation. The 'gyro night rating is the culmination of years of work on obstacle-clearance, the debunking of received wisdom, the creation of eggs where there are no chickens, and the forging of trust. It speaks of a profound cultural change in the CAA at every level. Creating the rating required wholehearted buy-in from every corner of the Authority — legal, financial, policy, approvals, flight standards, Uncle Tom Cobley, any or all of which could have kicked it into the long grass. And that buy-in had to be backed by executive support from the top to the bottom.
Don’t underestimate the amount of effort, pain and dislocation that’s gone into heaving the CAA oil tanker onto this new course. Ten years ago it could not have happened; any one of a hundred risk-averse bureaucrats could have killed it simply by ignoring it. But if we’d had the sort of partnership between regulator and regulated exemplified by the gyro night rating, we’d never have gotten into this mess.
The men in the photo are Ian Bryant, Steve Boxall and Richard Craske. Bryant and Boxall are the ratings recipients, Craske is a Flight Examiner (Helicopters) in the CAA’S Technical Approvals Department. When he joined the Authority seven years ago, Craske was asked to lift the stone on the neglected autogyro sector. A high-time helicopter pilot who flies an air ambulance to keep his hand in, Craske shared his colleagues’ opinion of autogyros, which is that it’s quicker and less messy to do it with a shotgun. But when he looked at the detail, a different picture emerged. First, the majority of autogyro accidents happened on takeoff or landing, which pointed to a training problem. Second, while the accident record of homebuilts was dire, shop-bought autogyros built to certain standards — Section T of the British Civil Airworthiness Requirements — had a safety record as good as single-engined Permit fixed-wings.
So the CAA decided proactively to relieve Section T autogyros from a restriction that banned overflights of any built-up area. That got the sector’s attention — they’d been complaining about it for years. Next, Craske immersed himself in the business. Given the time and budget by his superiors, he learned to fly autogyros, taking lessons from different instructors. Quality was variable, but some training was extremely good. Once standards were raised to the level of the best, training could be standardised to the benefit of safety. Craske created the Gyro Panel of Examiners, chaired by himself. What followed was a genuine partnership between industry and regulator, with both sides trusting the other to do the right thing. A key figure was Phil Harwood, author of gyro training books and tireless promoter of the sector. With help from across the spectrum, Harwood designed the first ever FIC course, and Craske brought the CAA along — no easy task when simply designing an application form or a rating involves many, many departments, each with its own imperatives; don’t even ask what ‘backroom testing’ means.
The creation of the night rating illustrates the way in which obstacles were tackled. No autogyro was cleared for flight at night, so Gerry Speich, MD of Rotorsport UK, got a Cavalon Pro night-qualified. Instructors had to be invented. Boxall, an ATPL(A) with night experience, and Bryant, a high-time exmilitary helicopter instructor with a great deal of NVG experience, were authorised to fly ‘day into night’ so they became accustomed to flying gyros in the dark. Then they slowly pushed the boundaries, every step explicitly authorised by Craske after due deliberation, until every party was satisfied that this could be accomplished in safety. Thus were two highly experienced pilots given instructor privileges.
It was agreed that Phil Harwood should be the first non-grandfathered night rating candidate. He was taught half by Boxall, half by Bryant and, using his knowledge as an FIE and Senior Examiner, Harwood was able to critique each instructor and road-test the standardisation. And so the rating was born.
There’s much more. Rules that said you couldn’t go solo in a gyro unless you owned it were rescinded. Craske wrote an internal CAA report on autogyros at a time when the ANO was being rewritten, and as a result it’s become possible to get a commercial licence for an autogyro and to use it to make money, and that’s a real game-changer. It’s not a matter of waving a wand. You need C of A autogyros, ATOS to train at, you need to design pre-entry requirements, to write an autogyro technical exam — and it can’t be done by anyone who’s going to take it, but someone has to go first. Grandfather rights were accorded to Harwood in view of his experience, and he was tasked to write the technical paper on the grounds that he effectively already had the licence and wouldn’t have to take the exam. By the time you read this, someone in Britain will probably have the first new CPL(G)*.
So now there's a safe, robust training syllabus, and it’s helping to revitalise this sector of GA. The number of gyro instructors is increasing exponentially, sales are on the rise and, best of all, we’ll be able to pre-empt EASA when they decide to step in and screw everything up. When I look back over the thirty years I’ve been dealing with the CAA I find it hard to believe what’s happened here. The right thing has been done for the right reasons, with trust, respect and goodwill on all sides. Personal and professional risks have been taken at the CAA on GA’S behalf. We must ask ourselves whether we are taking full advantage of this new atmosphere. We’re so used to rejection, to moaning about what’s wrong that we don’t know what to do when someone says “yes”. I’ve seen a few false dawns down the years, but the gyro night rating is a glimpse of the sun. Carpe diem!
The gyro night rating is the culmination of years of work It's possible to get a commercial licence... a real game changer
*The CAA says Gyroplane, we say autogyro — Ed