Delivery Drones Featured

The CAA – Just Vulture

I seem to be on the naughty step at the Civil Aviation Authority…

I, as a director of a company, made a complaint that it had, at the time, taken over 500 days to undertake the process of getting a Temporary Danger Area in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace to fly one drone at 250 across Morecambe Bay, on behalf of the NHS.

How dare I complain? About a public service? What am I? a customer?

I complained because of the continued inter-departmental counter-advice, meaning we were led a merry dance, around in circles for months.

  • Airspace Regulation sent us back out to stakeholder engagement, causing us almost 90 days delay, because the document we sent out, which they had pre-seen and had given us feedback on, had our airspace dimensions in AGL as opposed to AMSL. All drone documentation is in AGL and there was no mention of this requirement in their own CAP1616 document. They could have asked us at any stage to change to AMSL and we would have obliged, but they waited until the end of the engagement, triggering a second engagement period.
  • Airspace Regulation then asked us, after two stakeholder engagement processes to provide Noise Assessment information, despite this contradicting their own CAP1616 policy document that stated this must be determined and agreed at the onset of the process. This was eventually over-ruled by the CEO’s office.
  • Airspace Regulation said we needed to submit a document to the Unmanned Aerial Systems team, referring to the document as a multitude of things “OSC”, “Addendum”, “Safety Risk Analysis”. but the CAA Policy for Permanently Established Danger Areas and Temporary Danger Areas states in Appendix 3.1-5(d) that a “Safety Assessment” needs to be submitted to the Airspace Change Portal as detailed in 3.1-5(3) which we did.
  • The Unmanned Aerial Systems team have decided internally that an entire document known as an “Operating Safety Case” (40k words normally) for every TDA is required to be submitted through their portal, as this is the only way they can charge the customer for their services. The UAS team failed to realise that they had already granted our operator Operational Authorisation for BVLOS flight but continued to argue that we had never submitted a new OSC for the TDA, despite the CAA policy saying the Safety Assessment needed to be filed elsewhere, which we did.
  • On another point – The sign off of Temporary Operating Instructions by ATC units – we had the UAS department stating that these must be signed off before the OSC was submitted and a letter from the CEO Office and an email from the head of Airspace contradicting UAS saying that the TOI’s did not need to be signed off prior.

So throughout the complaint process we were lectured at, told how we “had made assumptions” and at the end of the Stage 2 process we received a really poorly formatted email from the Head of Airspace stating that

“the CAA has met its service delivery commitment with regards to your application”

You can judge for yourself later if you think that 524 days is acceptable…. for one drone, in uncontrolled class G airspace across a tidal bay.

But perhaps most importantly it goes on to say:

“This Airspace Change submission was based on an agreed timeline for a June 2022 start date but where the lack of OA submission indicated this date was likely not achievable.”

Now this is the Head of Airspace writing back to us.

He repeatedly uses the term OA (Operational Authorisation), in the context that we submit an OA… but we don’t….as applicants, we submit an Operating Safety Case to the UAS team, who then issue us with Operational Authorisation. I know this, I have been through the process twice.

It is obvious that the Head of Airspace has no idea about how the UAS paperwork system operates.

And thus I referred the case to the Department for Transport’s Independent Complaints Assessor.

The CAA did not appreciate this, and thus I personally, made it into the CAA Board Report for February, which reads:

A complaint to the Independent Complaints Assessor (ICA) by Dr Crockford has recently been heard and found in favour of the CAA. Dr Crockford has failed to achieve the required approval to operate an RPAS in a Temporary Danger Area (TDA), an airspace construct that would need to be approved on a trial basis. He has used every opportunity to complain throughout the 2 years as opposed to following our guidance which included that he seek advice from expertise in Airspace Change.

Now there are a number of things wrong with the above text.

  1. It is a lie. The second sentence suggest I complained throughout the 2 years. When in fact I only, on behalf of Electric Aviation, initiated a formal complaint after writing to the CEO’s office yielded no result and perhaps most importantly I had waited a mere 524 days before submitting a complaint. This is perhaps libellous, perhaps defamatory. We’ll have to let the courts decide.
  2. Perhaps most important is the use of my name in the context. I represented the legal entity that made the TDA application. I suspect that this is a classic case of “victimising the complainant”. The CAA could have written that Electric Aviation Limited had submitted a complaint to the DfT, but they chose to name me personally, and thus single me out. What this did, however, was to allow me to request under GDPR every email, teams document, strategy document, and of course board minutes that mentions my name, which makes for an interesting read, showing how the CAA deem complainants as abhorrent.
  3. The entry is misleading as it makes no mention of the fact that the case has been referred to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman, sponsored by the Rt Hon David Morris MP. The DfT assessor whist sympathising with my plight, did not uphold the complaint, but wrote privately to the CAA “Given the technical nature of the subject matter, I won’t be surprised if I have got some of my facts wrong.” Hence the case has been referred to the PHSO.

The CAA’s report and those that authored it has thus, in my opinion, lied, victimised the complainant, failed to report the true state of the complaint and mislead the board, but what makes for fascinating reading is the communications up and down the chain that have led to this statement being published.

The sheer levels of hubris and arrogance within management of the CAA is quite staggering.

Corporate culture is everything, especially when you have paying customers.

As the CAA have painted me as a serial complainant, I’d better live up to their obvious high standards.

  • We’ll let the DfT deal with the complaint for victimisation, bullying and harassment.
  • The PHSO can deal with the original complaint.
  • The courts can decide if it makes the grade for libel.

Remember Electric Aviation are a paying customer of a government service.

No one, in 747 days, picked the phone up and said, “How can we sort this out?”.

No one. In 747 days.

All this for one drone, in un-controlled Class G airspace, across a tidal bay.

So if drones aren’t contributing £45Bn to the UK economy by 2030, as PWC predict, I do hope you’ll remember this post.

It is ironic that when the CAA demand that all commercial organisations operate a “just culture”, at board level they themselves appear to operate “Just Vulture”.

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