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.