Isle of Man Wants to be Business Aviation Center of Excellence
This year opened in a challenging way for the Isle of Man Aircraft Registry, which is now the largest corporate/private aircraft registry in Europe and the sixth-largest aircraft registry in the world. Just as it prepared to announce its 1,000th registration, the BBC Panorama Paradise Papers reported—based on documents leaked from Appleby, which has a key office on the Isle of Man—that jet owners such as F1 racing champion Lewis Hamilton were avoiding taxes by running their aircraft through an offshore company. The Isle of Man government imposed a news blackout as it braved the media storm, and at the same time industry insiders on the island, of which there are a growing number, fumed at the injustice of being tarred with this brush. For a start, Hamilton races in Grand Prix events all around the globe for much of the year, and if that isn’t business, what is?
When BJT sister publication Aviation International News visited the island in April and met with Simon Williams, its director of civil aviation (DCA), he was clear to state that the DCA is a safety regulator, and has no involvement in tax matters. “But I will always robustly defend the island,” he added, given that it has been the most proactive on financial transparency in the face of European Union demands, among others.
With safety the core focus for the DCA, incorporating the requirements of ICAO’s Annex 6, Part 2 was central to his early ambitions when Williams took on the role in October 2014. Fast-forwarding three and a half years, Williams—speaking from the DCA/Aircraft Registry’s new offices looking over the ramp at the island’s airport, Ronaldsway—said Annex 6 Part 2 has been adopted. “So we’re ahead of a number of leading jurisdictions in that respect.”
The DCA’s main focus this year is something new: repatriating the power to create secondary legislation from the U.K. (The island has its own government, Tynwald, with the world’s oldest parliament, and is part of the British Isles but not part of the U.K. or the European Union).
The new aviation bill went through Tynwald and entered the legislative council, where it goes through three stages. As of April, it had cleared the second stage. “We expect it to be finalized mid-to-late this year,” confirmed Williams.
“It will mean I have the power to draft secondary aviation for the Isle of Man. If I have to draft a new ANO [air navigation order], at present I have to put it in for policy review, legal review, and [it is considered by the U.K.] Privy Council. This takes a lot of time. So we will eliminate all that.”
Speaking about the wider aims of the Isle of Man DCA and Registry, Williams said, “Our vision is that the Isle of Man truly becomes a center of aviation excellence, at the forefront of aviation regulation, incorporating best practices from around the world.
“But the key point is that we allow business aviation to get on with business aviation—to reach the appropriate safety standard, but also we can probably be more responsive—but that doesn’t mean we’re slipshod about standards.”
He acknowledged that the decision about where to register aircraft is based on many factors such as “where they are based, and whether to go commercial or stay private.” The Isle of Man registry is strictly for corporate and private owners, and unlike some other registries, it has not gone down the commercial route. However, Williams said he is reinvigorating an initiative started by his predecessor Brian Johnson, who started the register in 2007, to put airliners on the register between leases, when they are parked.
Apart from this, he said, “staying corporate and private is our intention for the foreseeable future.”
In terms of aircraft operator certificates (AOCs), Williams is circumspect. “From the bizav point of view there is still plenty of opportunity,” he said, but he noted that DCA is looking into the prospect of offering AOCs. “If you stand still, you know you’ll be overtaken, so we’re always looking at a number of new things. But to embark on AOC oversight is a huge step change and we don’t want to be distracted from our core activity” and the high level of responsive customer service (even when people leave the register).
“There are a number of steps involved in overseeing an AOC, but the fundamental function is the protection of the fare-paying passenger. But there are lots of little things that people don’t necessarily think about. For example, you are not guaranteed overflight rights. The safety oversight requirement for AOCs is much higher, too. Private aviation is international GA though, and we want to be a center of excellence for private and corporate aviation. I’m not saying we’ll never do AOCs, but we need to be aware of the challenges, and we’d have to make sure that the [service to the owners/operators of the] 440 aircraft that are registered as private and corporate wouldn’t be affected.”