Top European air safety regulator warns over budget squeeze

By Thomson Reuters Mar 28, 2024 | 5:37 AM

By Joanna Plucinska and Tim Hepher

COLOGNE (Reuters) – The outgoing head of Europe’s aviation regulator has issued a warning over resources and called for a bigger role as it grapples with “systemic risks” in the aviation ecosystem.

The call comes as the 31-nation European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) looks to address recent safety concerns with far fewer staff and resources than its U.S. counterpart, the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We are struggling,” EASA Acting Executive Director Luc Tytgat told Reuters in a recent interview, weeks before his retirement.

Europe’s main regulator has a staff of some 800 and a budget of 248 million euros ($269 million) for 2024. In contrast, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration employs over 40,000 and has a budget of nearly $20 billion. Its size partly reflects its responsibility for the world’s busiest air traffic system.

The two regulators have been shaping rules for new forms of aviation while addressing threats such as cyberattacks and increasing scrutiny of existing projects.

“In seven years we haven’t stopped re-inventing the wheel,” Tytgat said. “And we have been able to grow in terms of tasks, but with the same level of resources,” he said at the regulator’s headquarters in Cologne overlooking the Rhine.

The air safety veteran was appointed the agency’s acting head last year, succeeding Patrick Ky, who was credited with boosting its influence during crises over Boeing crashes in 2018 and 2019.


Next month, Tytgat will hand over European oversight to Florian Guillermet, head of France’s air traffic control agency.

Two months later, Europe faces a budget and political crossroads, when European Union citizens elect a new EU parliament.

“I need to hope that they will increase the budget,” Tytgat said, without referring to a specific timeline. EASA’s current budget period runs until 2026.

Around a fifth of the agency’s budget is assigned by the EU’s parliament, with another fifth tied to specific projects, with the lion’s share, or 59%, covered by fees charged for certification work. But even as those revenues increase, EU rules make it hard for the agency to expand unless its role expands too.

As aviation technology becomes more sophisticatedit is critical to watch the entire ecosystem, from runways to the skies, Tytgat said.

“This systemic approach is absolutely important today.”

To help join the dots and prevent accidents, EASA wants to have a greater role in collecting and analysing safety data generated by modern jets.

“The idea would be to connect and have the (latest) picture of what happened during the last flight accumulated here, for each flight in Europe, coming from the engine, coming from the aircraft, coming from the air traffic manager,” Tytgat said.


The agency’s call for more resources does not appear to be winning immediate favour from airlines or the EU’s executive.

“I’ve never yet met a bureaucrat who didn’t want more money and a bigger budget. And you know, EASA wastes quite a lot of money,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told Reuters.

EasyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said Europe had an “astonishing” safety record. “I don’t think necessarily that there needs to be more oversight from the regulator.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission said it “does not envisage at this stage to modify the remit of EASA”. It was last extended in 2018 to cover areas such as cybersecurity, aviation research and the environmental impact of aviation.

EASA already has an embryonic Data4Safety programme expected to go live later this year.

(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Tim Hepher; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)