Changing Horses in Mid-Stream

The spectacular over-reaction to the volcanic ash was caused by confusion and panic at the British Civil Aviation Authority where a radical changeover of its top personnel was taking place.

In 2008 the Transport Department set Sir Joseph Pilling of the Northern Ireland Office the task of carrying out an “independent” strategic review of the CAA. His rather bizarre conclusion was that it would be a good idea to clear out the experienced male officials and replace them with a more politically correct gender balance.

Thus Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis decided a few months ago that the great quango-hopper Dame Deirdre Hutton should be parachuted in from the Food Standards Agency to chair the CAA. He followed this disastrous move by the equally unlikely appointment of Andrew Haines as the Chief Executive. Haines’ background was our dreadful railway system where he had run South West Trains.

Most people would expect the Chairman and CEO of the Civil Aviation Authority to have at least some knowledge of aviation but this is the Gordon Brown government and they do things differently.

Adding to the confusion, a new Group Director of Safety Regulation had (appropriately) just taken up her post on the 1st of April. The American Gretchen Burrett was the first external appointment to this key post but at least she had some aviation experience having been trained in human factors and safety management.

It is difficult to imagine the last chairman Sir Roy McNulty making such a complete horlicks of the ash problem. He had a lifetime’s experience of aviation including being Chief Executive of Short Brothers plc, the Belfast-based aerospace company, President of British Aerospace, and Chairman of the DTI’s Aviation Committee.

In view of this latest fine mess delivered by the usual Downing Street suspects I think British aviation could make a good case for government compensation.

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