In January 2020, I flew to the US, aware of a respiratory disease outbreak in East Asia, but really nothing much more than that.  In early February I flew to Oman, by now much more aware of the disease and starting to see restrictions come into effect, wondering how they might affect my travel plans. By mid-March, I had not only caught Covid myself – fortunately without the severe consequences that have tragically affected so many – but had had my flights for a long-planned trip to Nepal cancelled, and was starting the long process of securing a refund from the airline concerned. In short, I gained at least some insight into the air travel consumer’s early experiences of Covid.    

And then, less than two months into the UK’s first Covid lockdown, I was appointed as the next Chair of the UK Civil Aviation Authority. A number of people have since asked me whether I would still have applied for the position, if I could have foreseen Covid and its devastating impact on UK and global aerospace. To which my answer is ‘of course’. Because I believe passionately in aerospace, I believe that the CAA has a vital role in enabling aerospace success, and, like everyone in the CAA, I believe in service for the public good. So I am committed to contributing in any way that I can to helping lead aerospace and the CAA through this greatest challenge the enterprise has ever faced. 

Sir stephen hillier
Sir Stephen Hillier, Chair of the UK Civil Aviation Authority

For the CAA, dealing with the pandemic has meant adapting our systems and processes to allow our colleagues to work effectively from home, or safely where they have still needed to conduct in-person inspections and audits. Many of these changes will remain in place once the pandemic is behind us, including conducting some of our oversight activity remotely.

The pandemic has also challenged us to think about how we can enable the industry to recover, playing our part to the full in managing risks and ensuring the high levels of safety expected from UK aviation are maintained.  Regulators clearly do not provide financial support, but we do have the ability to act flexibly within our regulatory framework so that, where possible, licences, approvals and certificates can remain current regardless of the downturn in activity.  At the UK CAA, we have made full use of this flexibility.

And, finally, we can also plan. We are now looking to the future to see how the UK’s aviation industry can realise its full potential, whilst dealing with public health challenges. As part of this, we are working closely with ICAO on the continued development and implementation of its CART ‘Take-Off’ guidance, which we see as critical in creating an internationally recognised standard of Covid-security in the aviation system.

There is huge pent up demand for the services aviation provides, and I have full confidence that the sector will make a strong recovery over time. But the road to a full recovery will be long and challenging for us all, both personally and professionally.