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Talk and speculation about the impact of ‘privatisation’ in civil aviation authorities have been rife. But what does it mean to devolve from government control in this sector? We look at the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), a quango making the most of private-sector ideas.

A 2013 paper by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) pointed to significant changes in the way civil aviation has been governed over the previous two decades. Previously state-owned, increasingly civil aviation authorities had become ‘privatised’, to use a popular phrase.

As the paper pointed out, privatisation refers to diverse types of management, ranging from a partnership between government and the private sector to government-owned companies. While the paper pointed to some of the adverse outcomes arising from private sector involvement, it recognised that there were some benefits. Deploying a business culture of efficiency and cost-cutting, access to private capital markets and reducing the burden on government were among them.

There is a third way, however, and that is to make use of the expertise of the private sector while remaining a state-controlled body. And it’s a model that has proven success.

BCAA was created in 2016 from the Bermuda Department of Civil Aviation (BDCA), established in 1931 and is responsible for the regulation and safety oversight of aviation in Bermuda. The Bermuda Aircraft Registry, which BCAA owns and manages, is the oldest and largest offshore registry in the world. It ranks tenth biggest in size compared to the 191 signatory states to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

BCAA is a semi-autonomous administration – a transition from the government-run Department of Civil Aviation. It is now a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation (QUANGO) set up under the Bermuda Government.

And this change meant that it was free to become more business and customer-focused. There is little to no private sector involvement in the running and operations of the BCAA. However, The Ministry of Transport appoints a Board of Directors made up of private sector individuals, with a variety of backgrounds/expertise, to provide governance for the Authority.

BCAA combines the stability of state government with the good ideas of the private sector.

Thomas Dunstan, Director General of BCAA, said: “After over 85 years of registering aircraft, the decision to transition to an authority was made to reduce the restrictions that apply to the public sector, and use the newly formed authority to increase productivity, enhance customer satisfaction and ultimately grow the Registry.”

Dunstan is a seasoned expert in the business of aviation. He discovered his passion for aircraft and flying at a young age, which led him to study and complete a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management and Flight Operations. During this time, he attained his FAA and Canadian Commercial Pilot Licenses with multi-engine instrument and instructor ratings.

Following some instructing and light twin flying, Thomas went on to explore a few other industries. He then returned to his career in aviation as Supervisor of Terminals at the Bermuda International Airport in 1996. Over 12 years, Thomas held various positions at the airport, gaining valuable experience in all sectors of Airport Operations.

With safety at the forefront of his agenda, Thomas became Manager of Air Operations, where he contributed to the airport’s certification process and became instrumental in the development of Quality Assurance and Safety Management Systems.

In 2007, Thomas joined the then Bermuda Department of Civil Aviation, which later became the BCAA.

In the first six months of the organisational change, Dunstan created a new business plan, focusing on staff hiring and processes, building brand awareness and planning for market growth. Said Dunstan at that time:

“So far, we have been able to grow our team by 10%, adding staff members in critical areas such as finance and IT. Our current registry consists of over 780 aircraft, and with our new business model, we expect significant growth in the near future.

“We have started to increase our exposure at international events, such as EBACE, to promote the fact that we are a global service provider in aircraft registration and safety oversight. We exhibited at ABACE in Shanghai for the first time last month, which is a new target market for us, and had a lot of positive feedback.”

And that success has continued. Speaking of the benefits of becoming semi-autonomous, Dunstan says:

“Becoming an Authority has allowed us to be more financially autonomous.  We generate revenue through our fees for services and use this to offset our expenses.  This way, we can operate in a more business-like manner, fully meeting all our safety regulatory oversight responsibilities, which was evidenced during the recent ICAO audit.  We can better plan for future needs and requirements and resource appropriately.

“All of this means we can continue to grow sustainably.”

Last year, BCAA launched a marketing campaign to highlight their personal approach and customer-centric business model, using the tagline ‘Putting you at the centre of everything we do’. The campaign highlights BCAA team members from various departments and gives insight into different roles and personalities in a humble, friendly way.

Dunstan comments: “We believe that the service we provide is only as good as the team that provides it. Ultimately, we strive to be flexible, transparent and responsive to make the process of registering an aircraft as quick and easy as possible, while maintaining the highest standards of regulations, professional service and courtesy.

“Our marketing campaign has had a great response, and people have even come to our booth at events like EBACE and recognised us from the ads.”

And it’s not just about marketing and sales success. BCAA has managed the complex regulatory requirements governing aircraft registration with competence and efficiency.

In May of this year, Bermuda Aircraft Registry added its 900th aircraft, a significant milestone which seals its reputation as a responsible, stable and growth-orientated organisation. Says Dunstan:

“The Bermuda Registry has earned a solid reputation internationally, and we continue to build on that year on year. We work hard to establish trusted relationships with our global partners, and this is how we have been able to achieve building the current registry up to 900 aircraft.”