R v Murgatroyd has been a trial at Manchester Crown Court of breaches of the Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2016 and associated regulations, which is the legislative framework for civil aviation in the UK. This domestic law is now subject to a considerable overlay of European legislation, originating from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The defendant was convicted on all seven counts, which arose from the flight and subsequent crash of a light aircraft, of which he was the owner and pilot. The aircraft was written off in the crash, which occurred shortly after take-off from Manchester City Airport (Barton). His three passengers, all of whom suffered injury, were keen birdwatchers who had chartered the flight to the Outer Hebrides.
The principal allegations fall into two groups.
The first of those arose out of his airmanship, namely that he recklessly endangered the aircraft, persons in it and others on the ground. This arose from him taking off with his aircraft grossly overladen, from an aerodrome which has a short grass runway and with challenging obstacle clearance.
The second set were that he was charging his passengers, so as to make a profit, when he was neither the holder of the necessary Commercial Pilot’s Licence or “Air Operator’s Certificate”, i.e. Illegal Public Transport under the ANO. These allegations required careful consideration of the EASA regulations, enacted into UK law since 2015, that have relaxed the previous restrictions on “Cost Sharing”. This is where non-commercial pilots can legitimately charge their passengers, by them sharing the direct costs of the flight. The provisions are widely drawn. How they apply to owner-operators of aircraft is subject to EASA guidelines, or “soft law” and a degree of further interpretation.
This was the first Crown Court trial in the UK of a pilot for either reckless endangerment of an aircraft, or of illegal public transport. Henry Blackshaw was the obvious choice for the prosecution of this matter, having obtained a Private Pilot’s Licence at the age of 17 and having maintained a lifelong interest in aviation (he still flies regularly). His personal knowledge of the specialist issues arising in the trial was of substantial assistance in handling and challenging the expert witnesses who gave evidence on aeronautical theory, the standard of flying and the mechanical condition of the aircraft concerned.