A couple of hours in Redhill Town

IMG_3954A Saturday morning spent campaigning in Redhill is a real eye opener.  A group of us set-up a street stall with free cakes, leaflets galore and a couple of European flags.  We set-up outside the local shopping centre to be seen by as many people as possible.  The heat of the week has gone.  At one point, the wind almost took the whole stall away as the British weather has changed to become stormy.

We collected a lot of signatures for our #PeoplesVote petition.  Whatever you do, please don’t get the wrong impression from what I write here.  The morning was a campaigning success story as so many people came over to our stall.  So, many great people to chat to about the positive things we can do to bring about change.  That said, it’s the difficult conversations that are interesting.  Here’s a few tales from the streets of Redhill.

An old Liberal friend who I hadn’t seen for many years, dead set against the European Union, was a joy to meet.  Yes, we had our differences but there wasn’t that unpleasant animosity that springs forth so easily from some people who supported the Leave vote.

One Labour voter let me know that the EU was a big capitalist conspiracy.  He was a retired railwayman.  To him the EU was responsible for all the tiresome rules and regulations that the railways had to implement.  It was as if taking the EU away would suddenly transform British railways.  Yet, as we know most of the disastrous decisions made by the current Minister responsible for the railways are purely national mistakes.

A conversation with, I would guess an East Surrey UKIP member, was kept on an even keel by our mutual interest in aviation.  He delighted in telling me stories that he though I was too young to know.  I figured out he once worked in the defence industry.  Possibly at Filton in Bristol.  It’s amazing how the bitterness of a decision made in 1965 has lingered so long in the mind.  The cancellation of the British Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 was part of his lament.  It seemed crazy that this was part of his package of reasons for being anti-EU when that decision, and many similar ones, had nothing what so ever to do with Europe.

Three or four times the argument came at me, as if it was an unstoppable force, that: “we’ve had a vote”.  That vote was enough, and we shouldn’t have any more.  A couple of, mostly older men said: “what you are doing is undemocratic”.  I felt myself getting agitated but kept my cool.  I just wonder if the people who say such things have even the slightest idea how their democracy works.  Not even one of them can claim to have stood for election in a real democratic process as many times as I have done.  Yet, they will come at you aggressively with this simple line.

In fact, they get stranger.  One guy used a football analogy that fell flat on its face.  He said: if you played a football game and lost you would have to accept the result – wouldn’t you?  To which I answered: “well, I’m just trying to win the next match as you would expect any good player to do”.  As expected that made him even grumpier.

A middle-aged woman pronounced that the Country was full.  She didn’t want to say what she meant outright but it was clear enough.

A couple of young lads passed me by.  I said: “want one of my leaflets?” and the response was – no we’ve had enough of that – people keep changing their minds.  That’s not encouraging.  The idea that changing your mind is somehow too much to cope with is disconcerting.

One older man repeated the line that he didn’t want to be ruled by the Germans.  I asked what he knew about how the EU worked and if he had been to Germany recently.  I even admitted that I had lived there for 11 years.  That was a bad move on my part.  The immortal line got thrown back at me – if you like it so much why don’t you ******* off back there.  To which the only answer is to smile and walk away.

Remarkably there were things that I found to agree upon with those in Redhill who didn’t share my enthusiasms for a #PeoplesVote.

One: Bring back Spitting Image.  What they could do with today’s dull politicians and Royals.

Two: May’s Government is doing a terrible job – mass unhappiness – nobody gets what they want.

Three: Jeremy Corbyn is the worst official opposition leader in a generation or more.

There’s a generation, most of whom had a referendum vote in 1975, who have lumped all their troubles and fears into one big bag and called it “Europe”.  Its clear, that’s not their real concern but that hardly matters.  Europe has become a proxy for a bucket load of negative emotions and troublesome fears.  Historians will not make sense of this in years to come as we can’t make sense of it now.

Calling for a referendum on the deal that the Government comes up with in the end, has its risks.  Although the pendulum is swinging against the Leave vote, there is still a hard core of disgruntled people who will shoot their own foot rather than think again.  Now, we are a terribly confused Nation.  I’m convinced that after March next year none of the people’s real concerns will have been addressed.  Stay tuned, this saga has a long way to run.

Brexit & Aviation 22

The politics of the day would seem to be “divide and rule”.  Not an entirely unknown approach and, when conducted in the open, can make you look silly if it doesn’t work.

There are three parts to the European Union that need to be convinced that the Withdrawal Agreement they see on 18 October is one they wish to accept.  The three are: the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament.  The most powerful is clearly the Member States as they sit in the Council of the European Union[1].  This week the UK is attempting to influence the Council through influencing Member States that it thinks could be persuaded to be sympathetic to the UK Government’s White Paper proposals.

The presidency of the Council rotates among the EU Member States every 6 months.  The Austrian presidency of the Council runs from 1 July to 31 December 2018[2].  That explains why Mrs May has been in Austria.  Tonight’s news would suggest that trip isn’t going all that well.  Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has told Mrs May it’s “important to avoid a hard Brexit”.

Romania has the Council presidency from January to June next year.  They are the ones who may have to wave the UK goodbye or not as the case maybe.

If there is “no deal” between the EU and the UK there is no automatic fall-back position for the aviation sector.  It will be a unique situation where the EU Member States continue to apply all the existing rules and regulations and a “new” neighbouring State becomes unpredictable.  The Brexiteer lobby entirely misleads the public when saying: “it will all be alright on the night.”

As the UK leaves the EU and becomes a “third country” it will cease to be part of the fully-liberalised EU aviation market.  The UK can’t fall back on old bilateral agreements it had with the US and other EU countries since these were superseded and are obsolete.  Their restoration is extremely unlikely.

As a contingency, a number UK operators and businesses are expanding or setting-up new bases within the EU.   This could work for them, but they’ll have to show that a majority of the ownership of their shares is in the EU.

Naturally, simple goodwill could sort much of this out at the last minute. However, goodwill will be in short supply if there is no successful conclusion of the Withdrawal Agreement.  Even with this essential transition agreement the outcome is a standstill until the end of 2020.

The story the Brexiteers are telling in public is crazy.   They say: If there is “no deal”, there will be no catastrophe.  It’s all this so called: “project fear”.  But if there is a catastrophe it’s not our fault, it’s everyone else’s fault.  They are already allocating blame for an event that is avoidable.

[1] https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/council-eu_en


[2] https://www.eu2018.at/


Brexit & Aviation 21

Maybe the next one of these articles I write should be split into two parts; one for the political and one for the technical.  There does seem to be continuing divergence between the two.  The political environment is as volatile as ever with growing uncertainty surrounding the possibility of a “no deal” situation.  Stories of contingency planning have delighted the media as we are told food and pharmaceuticals are being stockpiled.  At the same time the Government assures us that we are making good progress in the UK-EU negotiation.  Parliament returns on Tuesday, 4 September, so I guess the next month may be quieter.  Perhaps the sharks off the Cornish coast will get all the headlines during the summer.

Technical developments are following that well-loved tee shirt slogan: “keep clam and carry on”.  This week another key document has been published, namely: Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union[1].

We are told that the UK and the EU have agreed that the UK’s exit will be followed by a time-limited implementation period that will last from the moment of exit until 31 December 2020.

It’s good to see in the document mentioned above there is a section on participation in EU institutions, agencies and bodies.  It says that; guidance is being worked up on the consistent interpretation and application of the criteria for UK participation in EU bodies during the implementation period.  So, basically there may be some stability until 31 December 2020 but after that no one knows.

I’m taking it as read that this includes the UK membership of EASA.  The paper goes on to say that these arrangements are unlikely to require any provision in the Bill.  That is the UK Bill introducing the legislation for the final Withdrawal Agreement.  That does strike me as strange given that the UK will go from being a Member State to a “third country” in respect of EU legislation.

The paper recognises that the UK participates in several international agreements because of being a Member State.  That includes the aviation bilateral agreements.   At the European Council meeting in March, there was agreement that the UK is to be treated as a Member State for the purposes of international agreements during the implementation period.   Parties to the aviation agreements will be notified of this approach by the EU.  This is important.  Let’s hope the parties concerned agree too.

The last line of the 38-page document says that once the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified by the UK and concluded by the EU it will enter into force at 11pm on 29 March 2019.  The clock is ticking, as they say.


[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/728757/6.4737_Cm9674_Legislating_for_the_withdrawl_agreement_FINAL_230718_v3a_WEB_PM.pdf


Aviation & Brexit 20

The week that has passed has given reasons for optimism and pessimism.  A lot depends on where you care to look.

Parliament is chaos.  Antagonistic, divided and flip-flopping.  White papers and white lies coexist.  Honourable ladies and gentlemen many of them are not.  The Government’s answer was, let’s go on holiday[1].  As if delaying debate until September will help them over the trouble and torment.  No these will just get deeper as the political conference season gives platforms to every extreme.

Sensing that the unthinkable has become thinkable, preparations[2] are being made for there to be “no deal” between the UK and EU the before 31st March next year.  Judicious it maybe to be prepared but the signals given are all negative.  This week the pound has declined in value again.

How horrendous it would be, to have to admit that after 40 years of successful partnership, the UK and EU could not write down and agree the bare bones of a settlement.  Other potential partners around the globe would look on with shock and dismay.  The vultures are circling.

Some argue for a delay in the Article 50 deadline next year or even a suspension of the process.  There’s some merit in these proposals given that a two-year window for negotiations was a highly ambitious target in the first place.  It was written into European law with no experiences of its true meaning and, I assume, with the assumption it would never be used.

On a more positive note, I have been to the Farnborough Air Show this week.  It was almost taboo to avoid conversations about Brexit although there were plenty.  It was a trade day on Friday and set over to young people and developing the future.  The stands were buzzing with school children, air cadets and students.  I’m confident that these are the next generation of pilots and engineers who will drive aviation forward.

Looking around, I thought of the dry and hot summer of 1976.  That was my 16th year.  The summer I recall was wonderful.  That September, with wide eyed ambition, I started an engineering apprenticeship.  Being full of energy, enthusiasm and wonder the first tentative steps of my career were taken.

The mid-70s was a world of incredible possibilities at the beginning of the digital era.  Predictions of a new leisured age, where computers would do all our work filled the colour supplements.  Strange how life repeats.


[1] https://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/business-faq-page/recess-dates/


[2] https://ec.europa.eu/info/brexit/brexit-preparedness/preparedness-notices_en#move


Rules, Rules, Rules

IMG_3794Let’s unbox this rule-taker verses rule-maker dichotomy.  For one it’s NOT a binary choice.  In so far as international aviation safety rule making is concerned I have seen small, well informed organisations have a major impact of new rules and large powerful Countries asleep at the wheel.

It’s an illusion to assume that rulemaking process and procedures are static.  However, this is where political machinations have a significant impact.  It may or may not be the case that the parties to rulemaking fully understand the technical issues under consideration, but it’s nearly always the case that everyone has a view on the process and procedures.

I’ve sat in high-level meetings and listened to most ridiculous things being said about important technical issues and realised the room is divided between those who knew what’s going on and those who didn’t have a clue.   So, its not surprising that the default is that people often focus on process and procedures rather than issues.  Perhaps that’s where Brexit has gone off the rails.

Consensus based rulemaking moves slowly often to the frustration of all involved.  I could say; if you are going to make a thick glue, that binds, it takes a lot of mixing.  Outcomes generally succeed or fail not only subject to the good-will of the participants but based on the hard work and quality of both leadership and secretariat.  Perhaps that’s where Brexit has gone off the rails.

In fact, a secretariat can have the greatest soft power regardless of the disposition of votes amongst the membership of a group.  The great art and skill of finding a set of words that captures the essence of a proposal, standard or report is much underestimated.

Despite having written what I have above, it remains better to have a vote than not to have a vote.  Even if the UK continues to be able in its exercise of soft power its difficult to be convinced that long-term best interests are served by becoming a rule-taker.  International rules are made by Countries working together.  The bigger the coalition you have on your side the better.  Europe working together has much more weight than a fragmented approach from individual Countries.  Considering Mr Trump’s “divide et impera[1]” world view it would be wise to have close working partners.

Today, Britain has set a course for a soft Brexit.  In the short-term that can work.  Over the horizon, its large regional trading blocks that will dominate.  Please EU Member States, throw the UK Government a life-line.  If instability continues, a real chance of another General Election or even a referendum on the deal exists.  That may be needed but its sure going to be a rocky ride.

[1] Divide and rule (or divide and conquer)

Brexit & Aviation 19

It’s that week.  Every two-years the world of aviation flocks to a small-town West of London.  Matched only by Dubai and Paris is an air show where visitors from all over the world congregate to talk about every aspect of civil and military flying.  Visions of the future and the latest products from the major manufacturers all fight for the attention at Farnborough.

This year is different.  In 2020, the Farnborough Air Show maybe taking place in a non-EU State.  The last time that happened was in Farnborough in September 1972[1].  Then, knowing the UK was going to enter the EEC the show was opened to European companies.

I was 12-years old at the time.  It’s fascinating to see the Rolls-Royce powered Lockheed Tri-Star as a “new” aircraft.   My introduction to aviation took place further West.  I distinctly remember being taken to the annual Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton Air Day around that age.

So, what of aerospace in a post-Brexit Britain?  One thing is for certain; the Air Show organisers will not be closing the show to foreign aircraft or only others who use British parts.  Very few other things are certain.

At the same time, as the Air Show next week the negotiations between the UK and EU will resume in Brussels.   This time with a new British Brexit Minister and with a live UK White Paper on the table.  This is positive news.  However, to make the progress that the travelling public and aviation industry need the negotiators are going to have to move at supersonic speed.

It’s notable from the newsreel video of 1972 the high level of aircraft noise and emissions.  That’s an issue that has changed considerably over more than 40 years.  What was then the; “white heat of technology[2]” is, now totally unacceptable to the public.

That subject should be an area of focus for the negotiators.  The European environment is a common area of interest.  In civil aviation, for example, there’s no point in the UK and EU having different rules and regulations for aircraft noise and emissions.  Agreement on this subject should be sewn-up quickly and simply.

Addressing the global environment will be more than a few exhibits at the Farnborough Air Show.  The “electrification” of aviation is moving at great pace and represents a future market-place worth billion.  To get from A to B, well-funded research projects and flying prototypes are going to be essential.  This is another area of focus for the negotiators.  Continued European cooperation on civil aviation research funding will be the way to guarantee a place in the future.

[1] http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/bed15cead7354e0097b5001925cc0d65


[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2013/sep/19/harold-wilson-white-heat-technology-speech


Brexit & Aviation 18

More than 2-years on the clock but here it is in print.  The long-awaited UK Government White Paper[1] has been released.  The UK Government’s regulatory vision includes: “participation by the UK in those EU agencies that provide authorisations for goods in highly regulated sectors – namely the European Chemicals Agency, the European Aviation Safety Agency, and the European Medicines Agency – accepting the rules of these agencies and contributing to their costs, under new arrangements that recognise the UK will not be a Member State”.

Later, there’s more detail where the document says; The UK would seek: “a. for EASA, becoming a third country member via the established route under Article 66 of the EASA basic regulation, as Switzerland has.”

Under the exiting Article 66, EASA is open to the participation of European third countries.  This provision becomes Article 129 in the new Basic Regulation[2].  Therefore, EASA can establish working arrangements with the competent authority (UK CAA) of a European third country (UK).

In addition, the new Article 129 refers to the new Article 90 paragraph 2 which says: Those working arrangements shall not create legal obligations incumbent on the Union and its Member States.  That might be problematic considering the proposed mechanisms for resolving disputes further on in the White Paper.

The wish to be a part of EASA is repeated further on, as “the UK will seek participation in EASA. In addition to ensuring that manufacturers should only need to undergo one series of tests in either market, this would also support collective work on aviation safety, reducing regulatory barriers for businesses and ensuring continued high standards for safety across Europe.”

Then there’s a part about the ways and means: “through a Governing Body at leader and ministerial level; through a Joint Committee, including sub-committees where relevant, at a technical level; through formal consultation between experts on regulatory issues and legislative changes; and through exchanges between the UK Parliament and the European Parliament.”

Finally: “The nature and structure of the UK’s participation will vary depending on the EU body or agency in question. In some cases, there may be an appropriate precedent for third country involvement, as in the case of Switzerland’s participation in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)”.

Twice the relationship Switzerland has with the EU is referred to as a preferred model.   This does have a logic to it given that both Switzerland and UK have aeronautical manufacturing industry.  It is my understanding that the Swiss have more than a simple working arrangement.

A new “Joint Committee” is the proposed mechanisms for resolving disputes.  Again, it has a logic to it in that there will need to be an EU-UK forum for discussions that do not concern other Member States.  That said, it would seem to be a means to avoid the direct applicability of any ECJ rulings.

That might be problematic considering the binding nature they would have on one side of the table but not on the other.  There’s a challenge for enforcement where the two sides disagree.

The UK Government White Paper does not propose a system of mutual recognition for aviation safety regulation.  It continues with common European rules in the field of civil aviation.  This capitalises on the significant investment the UK made in helping to build the European system, but it does come with issues yet to be addressed.

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/724982/The_future_relationship_between_the_United_Kingdom_and_the_European_Union_WEB_VERSION.pdf


[2] http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/PE-2-2018-INIT/en/pdf


Brexit & Aviation 17

A while back, I wrote about a Statutory Instrument (SI), a form of secondary legislation in the UK.  For aviation we have primary legislation namely; the Civil Aviation Act 1982 which amongst other things constitutes a corporate body called the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The CAA is given functions by or under the Air Navigation Order (ANO).  That’s the SI.   In the ANO are the functions that include the registration of aircraft, the safety of air navigation and aircraft (including airworthiness), the control of air traffic, the certification of operators of aircraft and the licensing of air crews and aerodromes.

At the time when the European Union (Withdrawal) Act[1] was being worked-up, the Government estimated that “the necessary corrections to the law will require between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments”.  The Withdrawal Act has a means for the incorporation of EU legislation into UK law.  That includes the EU aviation law, like the Basic Regulation[2] that establishes the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).  Reading and trying to understand the Withdrawal Act is not easy.  My interpretation is that some draft SIs can be changed by a Minister and others need to be laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.  I see this is referred to as the affirmative procedure.

What will happen to process changes to the Air Navigation Order (ANO)?  Not only that question but where will the great number of elements of “soft law” in the European system sit in the new UK system?  Let’s take Certification Specifications (CS) for example, will they be referenced and tagged to a Schedule somewhere in a revised ANO?

Because this is complex but needs to be done speedily a Parliamentary research paper has just been published[3].  What becomes immediately evident is there’s a vast amount of work to be done and there may not be enough time to do it with the care it deserves.  Even to securitise one subject, like aviation demands a great deal of dedicated effort.  This leads me to think that there will be little or no detailed scrutiny and thus everything that is in place will get thrown into the pot and become law after exit day on 29 March 2019.  There will be little or no opportunity for public comment.

I understand that the Withdrawal Act 2018 will allow for changes to be made after exit day.  But how many are likely to be made?  There are a lot of questions that need resolution to avoid legal uncertainty after Brexit.  There will be need for a lot of public information to let everyone in aviation know the who, what, where, when, why and how of the new British rule book.  There will be legal departments up and down the Country frantically amending contracts, processes, proceedures and manuals.

[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/16/contents/enacted

[2] Referred to as non-domestic EU law.

[3] http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-8329/CBP-8329.pdf


Aviation & Brexit 16

It’s large, it’s blue and it’s made of steel.  It has a Bureau Veritas logo just above a plate declaring its characteristics.  Yes, I am the proud owner of a 20ft shipping container.  Useful storage.  Writing these words, it reminds me of two vital aspects of international trade which must not be ignored in the Brexit talks.  One is the importance of Standards and the other is the essential role Certification plays in the smooth operation of a large-scale system.

Aviation is no different.  Aircraft move passengers and cargo around the globe with incredible efficiency and safety, that is continuously improving.  Decades of experience are embedded in the Standards and the processes of Certification that make this achievement possible.

If you are a supporter of Brexit, you might well say; so what?  All that will carry on regardless of the UK’s status, in or out of a European regional block.  You might look to international bodies and their role in preserving the free flow of air traffic around the world.  Well, naturally that’s not entirely wrong but neither is it entirely right.  To intentional only tell half a story is to deceive.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) does a grand job wrestling with the complexities of trying to get nearly 200 States to agree.  It works hard to try to keep its Standards up-to-date but is generally a step behind the aviation industry.   It publishes material that helps States establish their regulatory systems, but it does not do Certification.

In aviation, day-to-day the Standards applied and the Certification work that is conducted is done at a National and Regional level.  If you are a supporter of Brexit, you might well say; so what?  Everything can be done at a National level.  Let me ask; did you ever do combinations and permutations as part of your mathematics schooling?  Imagine 200 States and then imagine how many bilateral agreements could be possible between those States.  Without need to do the sums – it’s a big number.

To take just one aspect of aviation, in the real world only a selection of the world’s States design, manufacture, maintain, repair or overhaul aircraft.  Even so, the number of potential working arrangements or agreements on Standards and Certification is big.  Each one requires years of work to mature and operate well.

Today, a great benefit of the European Union (EU) is that it brings together 28 Member States all applying the same Standards and Certification.  In fact, its more than that as others join in too.  Believe me that’s worth a lot not just to the aviation industry, but passengers benefit hugely too.

Stepping away from these benefits is not a wise move.  Such a move has the potential to degrade efficiency and impact safety.  It’s certainly a setback to continuous improvement.  Those making the Brexit choices need to take heed of the whole story and not just the part that suites their beliefs.