Aviation & Brexit

There’s several recent articles written about Aviation and Brexit.  Some are better than others.  All raise vital points for discussion.  Here, I thought I’d write this page to deal with one or two anomalies that often crop up.

Brexit is going to complicate aviation in Europe.  Absolutely no doubt about that fact.  However, the earth will not stop rotating and all planes will not stop flying on one day.

In aviation there are international bodies, intergovernmental bodies and the European Union.  With full agreement by the Member States, from its origins in the Treaty of Rome through all the Treaties, the EU has expanded its range of activities.  Now, before any further discussion it’s useful to look at the division of competences within the EU.  Transport is a shared competence between the EU and EU countries.   That means the EU countries exercise their own competence where the EU does not exercise, or has decided not to exercise, its competence.

Thus, changes in European aviation didn’t happen in one massive swoop, they are on-going and will be on-going for a long time into the future.  In all aspects of aviation, the EU and EU countries can legislate and adopt legally binding acts, but they don’t have to unless there’s a need.

By 1992, the foundations of a common transport policy had been laid[1].  The notion of a shared competence continues to be important throughout subsequent developments.

Another key point is to remark is that transport should not been seen in isolation.  As European policy developed so the environment became more prominent.  Aviation and policy related to research and innovation should not be separated.  Also, consumer rights is a key component.  This meant that not only did the Member States and European Commission need to work closely together but the different directorates of the Commission had to coordinate too.

Now back to international bodies, intergovernmental bodies and the European Union.  Grandmother of them all is ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal.  It’s sometimes referred to as the House of the States.  192 of them to be precise.  ICAO has a regional structure.  Its European office is in Paris.  To complicate even more, the Paris office is shared with, the European Civil Aviation Conference[2].  ECAC is an intergovernmental organisation that was established by the ICAO and the Council of Europe.  So, even if no EU aviation interest existed there is a set of institutions addressing European aviation.  And I haven’t even mentioned EUROCONTROL.

Much of what has been written recently refers to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).  This EU body came into operation in September 2003.  It had been discussed, debated and theorised over a decade or more.  Built on the foundation of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), initially EASA took over the task of aircraft certification.  Gradually, the remit of EASA was expanded.

This happened in a way that was fully aligned with the notion of shared competence.  The European aviation system is not a federal system as it is in the US.  EASA and the National Aviation Authorities work together.  One maybe tasked to write new rules and the other would be tasked to implement those rules.

If we take the subject of licencing as one example of the work of EASA and the NAAs.  In civil aviation, pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers need licences to work.

I’ve seen it written that post-Brexit, licences issued by UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will no longer be valid for operating in the EU when the UK ceases to be an EU member state.  However, in an international context it’s not that simple.  Today, EASA licences are issues by the NAAs, including the UK CAA.  These licences are fully compliant with ICAO Standards and Recommended practices.  As such it would be difficult for a European State, as an ICAO Member State to not recognise UK issued licences without some good technical reasons.

Where the UK may need to re-establish its competence, if it did drop out of the EU system would be in the field of aviation rulemaking.  Even then it could just copy the output coming from the EU and EASA in Cologne and put a UK label on it.

The situation could get exceedingly messy.  In this next year, methodical, patient and smart civil servants in both Brussels and London need to put down on paper exactly how the new arrangement will work.  That can’t wait too long because eventually the auditor will come knocking on the door and ask all sorts of difficult questions.

[1] https://europa.eu/european-union/topics/transport_en

 

[2] https://www.ecac-ceac.org/

 

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