GoAv8

To HM Revenue & Customs

"Proposed Commissioners' Directions on reporting of passenger and crew information for customs purposes: a Consultation Document" dated 25 March 2015

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We note that the Consultation Document is addressed to "anyone".  The following comments are from general aviation pilots based in the Republic of Ireland who are affected by these reporting requirements, whose names are listed in the email to which this document is attached. 

COMMENTS ON CONSULTATION DOCUMENT

These comments are dated ... April 2015.

The following abbreviations are used in these Comments

"Document": the subject Consultation Document;

"ROI":  Republic of Ireland;

"UK": United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland;

"NI": Northern Ireland;

"GB":  UK excluding NI;

"BF":  UK Border Force, and police activities in border security.

"GAR": General aviation report as published by HMRC and various UK police forces;

"TA":  Terrorism Act 2000 of the UK;

"GA": general aviation, by which we refer to private light aircraft flying generally on a non-commercial basis;

"ACPO" Association of Chief Police Officers;

"flights": this document is referring to non-commercial GA flights only;

"FIR" flight information region, used in international flight plans.

Preliminary

The subject of the Document is stated to be "for customs purposes".  However the Document makes no reference to the fact that GAR requirements for UK-ROI GA traffic arise primarily from the TA, which is stated to be for the prevention of terrorism.  So the Document sheds no light whether the 12-hours advance notice requirement for UK- ROI flights as enshrined in UK legislation will be affected by the proposals, or indeed whether "customs" purposes include immigration control and anti-terrorism security.  Police and immigration requirements are referred to in paragraph 5.4 of the Document but without any clarification whether the notice proposals are proposed to be instead of the police requirements, or in addition. Our comments below are largely based on the premise that the Document's proposals do intend to supersede the TA requirements, albeit the Document does not actually say this and is therefore in need of clarification.

Main Comments:

1.  Free movement of people and aircraft:

It is a basic principle of EU law that persons and craft such as aircraft should be free to move among the member states, subject only to controls that are proportionate.  We would respectfully submit that the draconian provisions of the TA as they now apply to UK-ROI flights, with 12 hour notice periods, and police discretion in effect to intercept any pilot for lengthy interrogation, are not proportionate.  Furthermore there is supposed to be a "Common Travel Area" between UK and ROI for passport-free travel which is not referred to in the document.  There would in the past have been concern about Irish-originating terrorism, but it is hard to believe today that this poses a greater threat to GB than domestic UK factors, or that ROI circumstances demand more restrictive GA travel controls than to/from other European Union countries such as France.

Pity the poor pilot from continental Europe, thinking he/she can tour the scenic British Isles - how is such a person to navigate the impenetrable maze of UK GAR requirements, both the nationally-stated ones, and the actual local ones?   Those of us who travel frequently between ROI and UK airfields find it hard enough, especially when unforeseen weather or technical issues intervene in our plans.  Such poor pilot would be incredulous to hear government policy is to make the UK the best country for GA .....

There must come a point where the UK's byzantine restrictions on intra-EU GA traffic so completely undermine a diligent law-abiding pilot's ability to travel, that EU free movement principles are offended.  We should consider a complaint to the Commission if the present consultation does not produce a material improvement.  

Many of our Irish fellow-pilots whose aircraft have sufficient range actively avoid landing in the UK when en-route to or from the European continent, due to the impracticable notice periods and all-around inflexibility of the GAR regime.  In those cases Fortress UK can be avoided.  

Can this be the same country whose government is committed to encouraging GA, and which recently published a paper that points out that there are 38,000 GA jobs in the UK and including the following sentiments:

"General Aviation Strategy -  2. VISION

The Government’s vision is of the UK being the best place in the world for GA as a flourishing, wealth generating and job producing sector of the economy."[2].

Why, therefore, is there (at least in theory) detailed flight-by-flight control of NI-ROI flights in small aeroplanes, but no systematic control at all of private passenger vehicles?  The latter would be a far easier way of moving criminals or contraband. 

We propose that the NI-ROI GAR requirement be removed, or the NI-GB requirement be removed, or both.

5.  Other comments:

(i)  The whole thrust of recent BF restrictions and the control of every GA flight in small aeroplanes to/from the UK appears to us to impose a widespread cost on the law-abiding GA community to achieve very little.   No distinction is being made between large GA aircraft that might for example be of some use to a smuggler, and the small types (under say 2 tonnes maximum all up weight) typically flown.  We are unclear why small types should not be exempted in the interests of consistency with road traffic, especially in an intra-Ireland context.

(ii)  The introduction of departure controls from the UK (otherwise than to ROI which is already controlled) to intercept criminals or malefactors seems to be of doubtful logic; a GAR form seems unlikely to figure largely in the considerations of a fleeing suspect.

(iii)  The proposed two hours notice is still too long in its practical application, and notice should be from the time of arrival not the time of departure.  The latter treats short flights into the UK differently from long ones.

(iv)  It appears to be a waste of police resources to repeatedly screen the same relatively small group of pilots who fly frequently on ROI-UK GA flights.  We propose a visa or preclearance scheme where personal details of relevant pilots of verified probity can be filed online and screened annually.  BF will still be notified of flights via flight plans.

 

(v)  The Document proposes to introduce a new restriction on flights from UK police-designated airports to ROI.  At present no advance notice is required for such departures.  Any new restriction on departures from the UK, from an airport which has on site police resources, is to be deplored.

(vi)  The draft legislation in the Document (at Annex A) appears deficient in a number of respects.  Paragraphs (2) and (4) refer to the "proper officer".  No definition of "proper officer" is provided.  Paragraph (4)(1) (a) (i) and (ii) refer to the proper officer having direct access to the data or it being transmitted to the proper officer.  This opens up the whole argument that has bedevilled GA pilots' interaction with UK police forces in the past, where GAR forms sent to a force were instructed to be routed to a named individual police officer (usually with a non-functioning fax number provided), who would not accept that references to "a constable" in the TA (Chapter 11 section 12(3)(b)) could mean anyone other than him/herself.  In other words, the common stance was that if DC Bloggs didn't get the GAR form, the required notice was not given, so the pilot was to blame.

Any new regulations need to make it crystal-clear beyond any challenge or debate that the pilot's GAR obligations are fully discharged by sending the information to a central website/fax or phone number or via an approved online platform.

If the "proper officer" does not get the data, or there is a computer failure or whatever mishandling occurs to the data after its transmission, that must not be a responsibility of the pilot.

(vii)  Schedule 2, presumably the contents of the GAR, is blank in the Document.  However we notice that in Schedule 1 item 2(a) requires "any other information described on the person's travel document".  Please note that ROI-UK travel does not as far as we are aware require any travel document to be carried, and where a driving licence or pilot licence were used as a travel document the concept of "and any other information" would include a mass of utterly irrelevant details.


[2] Just to cover a technicality with this scenario, no flight plan would normally be required for the "hop" as significant parts of ROI are in the Scottish FIR and likewise parts of NI are in the Shannon FIR