A short flight

IMG_3762This week my travels took me on a low-cost Ryanair flight from Stansted to Cologne on the banks of the Rhine.  Back in the 1990s, I was involved in the European validation of the generation of the Boeing 737s that the Irish airline uses.  So, it’s interesting for me to fly on, what is now the most popular civil aeroplane in passenger service.  Overall, when comparing the passenger experience on what was an internal European flight with my experience of an internal US flight last week, I’d give Ryanair points of praise.  That’s despite the delayed return flight that was put down to air traffic control and the aircraft carrier like landings.

Viewed from mainland Europe the notion that Britain should flirt with a “no deal” Brexit isn’t credible.  To risk a whole Country’s wellbeing seeking highly speculative benefits and potentially big costs is beyond what sober, sensible and democratic Governments do.  So, many people I have spoken too remain mystified by the state of play of the Brexit negotiations.  Why go for a lose-lose situation when a win-win is the best outcome?

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, it’s clear that the lives of UK nationals residing in, and travelling to and from, and inside the European Union (EU) are going to be complex.

To get over this, there’s been an increase in the number of people acquiring the citizenship of other EU Countries.  One of the most popular nationalities is German.  I know of Brits who are going through the process, language training and all, and mean to see it through.

Life becomes complex.  There’s a bit of that when it comes to the immigration ques at airport passport control.  Will UK nationals follow the signs with the EU flag and Swiss flag anymore?

Also, I was reminded on the difficulties Americans have using their US driving licences in Germany.  Will Brits undergo the need to take a German driving test if they stay for a while?

Currently, we await the Government’s Brexit White Paper.  One can only hope that the coming days will provide a degree of clarity and unity.  Whitehall will do what it can with an almost impossible task.  So, the words on the page might be “imaginative” to say the least.

However, we have seen meltdowns of UK Governments before and so that maybe on the cards too.  It was Thatcher’s Poll Tax that threw a huge spanner in the works the last time we saw a complete reversal policy.  The late 80s and early 90s were good times for me but the British political landscape was shifting, and the old guard was being replaced.  It’s likely we in a similar period.

Aviation & Brexit 15

So, what have I learnt over the last week?  It’s a mixture of facts and feelings.

It’s a significant week in that it’s now two-years since the UK referendum vote that resulted in a move to leave the European Union (EU).  Let’s recall that the decision to leave was based on a marginal win by those campaigning to leave and the result was unexpected.

I’m sure it’s true for numerous industrial and transport sectors, including aviation that we can say the progress made by the UK Government to secure a good exit deal is appalling.  It’s much the fashion to talk about performance-based rules in the aviation regulatory world.  If we were to measure the performance of the UK Government against even the lowest levels, they would come out with a great big fail.

With less than a year to go to the scheduled leave date in 2019, its clear that organisations are getting more nervous and extremely concerned that uncertainty continues.  At a time when implementation plans should be tabled its seems the UK Government hasn’t even worked out its immediate policies and strategy for aviation.

Having been in a hot and steamy Washington D.C. this week I’m reminded of the huge benefits of international cooperation[1].  On trade, it’s right that global competition works to deliver the best aviation services at the lowest prices.  The exception to that sentence is: safety.  Only an absolute fool would compete on safety.  To their great credit the major manufacturers and the major authorities all agree not to compete on safety.

In practical terms, that means through formal agreements there’s a growing trend to share safety information, increase transparency and to respect one another’s aviation regulatory systems.  Gradually as confidence and trust are built so these agreements have been expanded.  In fact, that’s what happened last week[2].  Advancing agreement are Europe, US, Canada and Brazil as they all have significant aircraft manufacturing activities.

Where a UK separated from Europe will sit in this mix is unclear.  There’s undoubtedly a strong wish that there will be continuity and the great contribution the UK has made in aviation is not lost.   However, industry and the regulatory authorities are subject to political risks as much as any other risk.  Risk is often looked upon as a combination of the likelihood of something happening combined with the severity of its impact.  Since the likelihood of a the most severe Brexit is increasing it doesn’t take a genius to see why people are getting more nervous and extremely concerned.

[1] 2018 FAA-EASA International Aviation Safety Conference “Achieving Safety Success in a Connected World”.

[2] https://twitter.com/FAANews/status/1009121455903297537


Aviation & Brexit 14

Putting aside the strange peculiarities of what has been happening in the UK Parliament this week the subject of “cherry-picking” has arisen again.  The unprecedent situation of a major Country leaving the European Union inevitably leads to an unpicking of arrangements that have stood the test of time.  The consequence of this unpicking was not understood by most people two-years ago.  Now, to use a well-used metaphor; the chickens have come home to roost.

Taking a position of high-principle the idea of “cherry-picking” is strongly resisted by the EU and European Governments.  Crudely, this is the case where the leaving Country rejects the parts of European cooperation they don’t like but hangs on to the ones they do like.

There’s nothing wrong with a Country’s expression of self-interest and, in the end, one would hope that a degree of pragmatism will prevail on all sides.  So, how does anyone come to a win-win outcome when high-principle and pragmatism are peppered with destructive rhetoric from the political classes?

An example is the “outrage” of politicians and media over the possibility that the UK maybe “excluded” from Galileo space project.  Now, if the UK wants to opt-in to such important European projects, it will have to sign-up to a “third country” agreement and make a financial contribution.  Asking its former partners – to wait while – isn’t a reasonable option given the slowness with which the UK is forging its new policy positions.

Similar dilemmas face the decisions related to the UK’s continued membership of several European agencies.  Whilst the UK ponders, major changes continue to take place within the European Union.  Some say, UK Ministers will have to accept that their vision of Brexit, as articulated in the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech, will not be ready for December 2020[1].

An example of need for a choice to be made is the great work that has been put into updating the European Regulation that determines the roles and responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).  In December 2015, the European Commission proposed to update aviation safety rules[2].  At the time the UK was supportive of this activity.  Now, an updated European Regulation has been voted through the European Parliament and will become law.

I’m pleased this has been adopted because the above includes work I started a decade ago.  It’s great to see that a “European Plan for Aviation Safety” will become part of the framework.

Will the UK opt-in to this or not?

[1] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/IFGJ6279-Preparing-Brexit-Whitehall-Report-180607-FINAL-3b-WEB.pdf


[2] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2018/620199/EPRS_BRI(2018)620199_EN.pdf


Aviation & Brexit 13

This week continues the uncertainty that surrounds Brexit.  I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend a meeting called “Beer and Brexit” with Philip Rycroft the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Exiting the European Union.   The meeting was organised by “The UK in a Changing Europe” at King’s College at Bush House in London.

Rycroft is undoubtably an interesting character.  He seems accustomed to overwhelming jobs, as he handled Scottish devolution and the Deputy PM’s office during the coalition.  Throughout the conversation, led by Professor Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs, he was as guarded as anyone would expect from a senior civil servant.

Nevertheless, I did draw one or two conclusions from the answers he gave.  One is that the UK civil services is out to hire lots more smart people, particularly in policy development.  Another is that his department might continue long after Brexit day or at least its teams may continue.  Now, I imagine that includes Transport and Aviation as much as it does any other major subject.

Appearing unflappable Rycroft was asked about what annoyed him the most.  The question was asked; was it former colleagues making criticisms in the national press?

My view of his answer was that he didn’t mind provided they stood by their comments and it was anonymous briefings that were the problem.  This was said just after references in the conversation to the Armageddon news stories around preparedness for a no deal situation.

He confirmed there will be a Government White Paper on Brexit but wouldn’t be drawn on when it would be published.  With today’s news we now know from the Prime Minister that this White Paper will only be available after the up and coming European Union summit.   Mrs May is reported to have said: “I’ll be bringing my ministers together for an away day at Chequers to finalise the White Paper we’re going to be publishing”.

All in all, it seems the “can” continues to get kicked down the road by the Government.

There are some hints as to what is to come as published this week was a presentation to explain the UK Government’s vision for a future UK-EU partnership and the framework for transport[1].   This is a 19-page presentation which is board and general but positive and upbeat.

Another separate but equally interesting item that I would like to comment on here is a well thought out paper called: “Brexit and EU Agencies: What the agencies’ existing third country relations can teach us about the future EU-UK relationship”[2].  This paper does highlight the numerous possibilities that could be applied in the field of aviation regulation.

If you like, compare and contrast the detail in the UK Government presentation and the paper of the Forschungsgruppe EU/Europa, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (@SWPBerlin) – Research Division EU/Europe, German Institute for International & Security Affairs.  Now I can see why the civil service needs to hire some more smart people to get through Brexit.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/framework-for-the-uk-eu-partnership-transport


[2] https://www.swp-berlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/arbeitspapiere/Brexit_and_EU_agencies.pdf


Aviation & Brexit 12

Having just read Michel Barnier’s recent speech to the 28th Congress of the International Federation for European Law (FIDE)[1] it suggests why Sunday’s news stories are centred around the doomsday scenario.  There’s distinct possibility of a “no deal” scenario between UK and EU.   A line in the speech stood out to me: “We do not want, and cannot, move from a community of law based on the supervision of the Court of Justice to a simple political dialogue”.

The “no deal” scenario would be to set aside the current legal framework for negotiations.   It would be to turn future discussion between UK and EU into a volatile political tussle between a Country and its neighbouring trading block.  It’s would be the diplomatic equivalent to arm wrestling or survival of the fittest.  Such an outcome would assure many years of continuing uncertainty even if there wasn’t a collapse in several industries and a whole lot of pain for citizens.

As the departure date gets closer, the Hard Brexiters are incentivised to sabotage the negotiations to get what they want, namely UK crashes out, without a deal.   At the same time as the above is in prospect, Ministers continue to emphases that Britain is open for business.  Government continues to stress that they want and expects an exit deal with the EU.

In aviation, commentators can only speculate given the paucity of information in the public domain.

It’s interesting to read Professor Keith Hayward’s[2] look at the legal, safety and regulatory “unknown, unknowns” on the countdown to the Brexit day.  A former UK CAA colleague of mine has written a useful piece on the subject too[3].

What is clear is that beyond these shores more aviation people are getting more concerned.  It’s not an act of ill-will to be prepared.  In fact, the international obligations in place require preparedness.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is preparing to take on the surveillance of the large number of approved repair stations in the UK[4].  Today, this work is addressed in the bilateral aviation agreement between US and EU.  An international agreement that may not be valid in the UK on 1 April 2019.

There’s a real need for the UK Government to be more explicit about how the UK aviation industry will be regulated post-Brexit.  Legal uncertainty is bad for business and for anyone who wants to fly.

At least over the next 4-days EU-UK negotiations are continuing (Tuesday, 5 June 2018 to Friday, 8 June 2018). The remaining issues with the Withdrawal Agreement are to be chewed over in Brussels.  That includes; Northern Ireland/Ireland and the future EU-UK relationship.   This is timely given the vote in the UK Parliament next week.  That’s when the House of Commons will be compelled to consider all the House of Lords amendments to the draft EU Bill in just one sitting, with virtually no time for debate.   All of which is not a recipe for success.

[1] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-18-3962_en.htm


[2] https://www.aerosociety.com/news/brexit-airlines-count-down-to-march-2019/


[3] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/brexit-uk-aviation-cliff-whittaker/


[4] http://www.mro-network.com/maintenance-repair-overhaul/faa-prepared-oversee-its-uk-mros-post-brexit-if-needed