The relationship between the regulator and its regulated industry is always complex. After all, it is the role of a regulator to ensure that industry is adhering to agreed rules and has adequate and reliable safeguards in place. However, this somewhat simplistic reason for existence doesn’t have to drive how the relationship between the regulator and Industry works in practice. It is to be expected that regulators may naturally perceive themselves as different and, on occasion, separate from industry, creating a ‘them and us’ relationship. This directive relationship can be sub-optimal for many reasons.

On its journey to Risk Based Surveillance (RBS), the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) learnt it is essential to rethink the relationship between industry and the regulator. After all, it is in everyone’s interest to keep aviation safe.

In 2011, the UK Government launched the ‘Red Tape Challenge’; a campaign aimed at cutting unnecessary bureaucracy through the introduction of ‘better regulation’ principles. Combined with the requirements of ICAO’s Annex 19, this built the ideal catalyst and framework for the initial step towards RBS. Both of these developments required the UK CAA to rethink its engagement with industry.

There are many different types of relationships between Industry and its Safety Regulator. These are typically described as being one of the following:

  • Directive
  • Engaged
  • Collaborative

In a ‘directive’ approach, the regulator traditionally uses its power to enforce its views upon industry, resulting in a one-sided, minimalistic industry engagement. Meanwhile, in an ‘engaged’ relationship, the regulator may also promote industry’s ability to have its own voice. Rather than just telling industry what to do, an effective regulator needs to be able to listen and consider.

However, to successfully implement RBS, the UK CAA advocates a relationship built on ‘collaboration’, which, in addition to listening to industry also promotes the joint ownership of actions, where appropriate. This doesn’t mean the regulator has to sacrifice its authority. Instead, the regulator and industry work together to achieve the highest safety assurance.

Before this can take shape, the UK CAA believes it is essential to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the existing relationship. If the current relationship does not match key requirements, corrective actions may be required to establish across functioning, collaborative partnership.

The regulator needs to learn to adopt a collaborative approach and enable itself to listen to industry, and jointly consider options – it is only then that a true joint partnership can be established. The benefits of a Joint Partnership create a new level of transparency between the regulator and industry, benefiting all aviation participants to increase safety. This transparency results in higher levels of trust, without breaking down the clear line that exists between the regulator and its regulated industry.

The UK CAA recommends starting the journey to RBS in partnership with industry. A defined goal must be agreed and all parties should recognise that not all answers may be immediately available. A collaborative approach will allow industry and its regulator to establish a common vision and embark on a joint, shared journey to achieve this. At the very heart of all this lies the fact that RBS is not about the regulator in isolation becoming a better regulator. The purpose of RBS is to increase aviation safety by both regulator and industry identifying the highest priorities and allocating resources accordingly.  Transformation to RBS cannot be enforced upon industry – instead, it can only be successfully achieved through collaboration/engagement with all stakeholder participants.

From the very outset of the UK transition, a clear mandate from industry was essential to ensure future buy-in and to continually validate the UK CAA’s approach. The UK CAA suggests a good starting point is to arrange for the regulator and industry to meet and discuss future safety strategy together. The UK CAA achieved this essential first step by arranging a conference where the regulator shared its plans to move to RBS and sought industry opinion. Industry’s feedback was taken into account and the UK plans to implement RBS adjusted accordingly. This enabled a common vision between both parties, with both the regulator and industry working together to agree on the best approach to achieve desired outcomes.

An essential part of moving to a collaborative approach is the regulator’s realisation that it will be required to play different roles in its engagement. However, it still needs to be ensured that the regulator’s authority is not compromised. It is, therefore, essential that industry recognises which role the regulator is playing at each phase of the engagement. In its efforts to achieve this, the UK CAA established a joint platform that is co-lead by industry and the regulator. This enables a safe environment that promotes free-flowing exchanges and ensures overall commitment to the transition to RBS.

Sharing long-term plans that detail how participants will transition to RBS will also help increase the visibility of future opportunities from a strategic perspective and allow industry to align strategic financial investments. A joint partnership approach will permit participants as a whole to be seen as speaking with a common voice, based on a common vision, strengthening safety performance. Work doesn’t end there however. A true joint partnership requires all participants to be able to freely challenge each other. As an essential part of RBS, regular checks are required to ensure that this initial commitment remains at the same level, and everyone is still on the same journey.

Once this collaborative relationship is built and matured, any upcoming issues can be resolved jointly in an engaged and shared manner, now that a suitable working platform/environment has been established. This approach underpins and is a key enabler to RBS, ensuring that the general public will be safe in the future as well as today.

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