Simon Whalley’s analysis shows that there’s a lot that remains uncertain. Even with the UK exploring the terms on which the UK could remain part of the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] there is no assurance of success. If an accommodation is achieved there’s still the thorny problem of being subject to rules that will be put in place without a UK vote for or against.
It might be that the undeclared strategic aim of the UK Government is to diverge from the European framework of rules. That would make EASA membership a transitional arrangement.
Given my experience, I’m forced to look at the evolving situation as the past gone into reverse. In the 1990s we were slowly but surely moving away from British Civil Airworthiness Requirements (BCARs) towards European ones as being organised by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). This progressive movement, of over more than a decade, created the stepping stones that made EASA possible. If we put all that into administrative reverse it will take a couple of decades to get to a situation of greater autonomy. Even that will not mean absolute control given the UK’s obligations within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the large number of bilateral agreement that will need to be put in place to replace the European ones.
I don’t deny that divergence may have one or two benefits. However, I will agree that the costs of divergence far exceed any of the potential benefits or, at least, that is the experience of the past.
Take the case where there is a major fatal accident of a civil aircraft on British soil. Post-accident, there is the potential to change aviation rules faster if the only consideration is a domestic outcome. Divergence will then certainly then arise quite rapidly. What can be bad about that? Well, there are a couple of issues. Rapid rule changes can be highly politically driven running the risk that the true nature of a technical problem is not addressed. Also, given the extremely rare occurrence of fatal accidents there’s a lot to be gained from aggregating information. If all energy and effort is focused on national problems much can be missed. In other words, the accident that others have maybe the accident you have tomorrow, if you don’t pay attention.
Pro-Brexit reporters have commented; if Australia and New Zealand can do it why can’t we? That is; to not have an empowered regional organisation addressing aviation. Also, such remarks have been addressed about the Gulf States. Look at these large aircraft operators and they don’t have an EASA, do they?
The truth is complex. A lot of these simple analogies don’t stand up to scrutiny. In fact, at international level more and more regional groupings are being established and recognised by ICAO. Also, the highly integrated and interconnected nature of design, production, maintenance and operations in Europe does mean we are not like any other global region.
Although we (UK) are in reverse gear let’s hope that a handbrake turn takes place before we hit the barrier.