Change is Good

Let’s imagine two and a half years ago you had taken an interest in moving to a new house.  Soundly and sensibly you got a survey done.  The survey showed up that the house was not worth the asking price.  Further inquiry showed that the original details were wrong and that the vendor had been less than honest.  Even with all your doubts, the vendor and his agents applied pressure to get you to sign-up.  The deal on the table was not a good one and the price is going up daily.  Would you carry on regardless or would you stop and say: no thank you, I’m better off where I am?

That’s where we are with Brexit.  Two and a half years of agonising debate and investigation but finally a decision must be made.  The world looks quite different from that of two and a half years ago.  People have come and gone.  The world is that much more unstable, but the big problems, like climate change and poverty remain.

So, why is changing minds so difficult?  I guess, it’s a human characteristic that none of us like to lose face.  Stepping back and admitting that; maybe we were wrong two and a half years ago is never going to be easy.   Our media is not helping.  Write-ups that say there’s a 50-50 chance that Brexit may be stopped are phrased in negative terms.  The reality is that for a huge part of the population that outcome would be entirely positive.

Prime Minister May’s deal does deliver an orderly termination of European Union membership but a noisy cabal of those who supported the “Leave” vote in 2016 do not accept this fact.   It’s certain that they never will.  On the one hand there’s the fact of leaving and on the other there’s a set of political slogans, images and rituals that some have attached to the whole process.

We now have a much worse division of opinion than we did the day after the referendum.   Two political blocks who continue to promote “Leave” (and “Brexit”) disagree venously.   Yet, bigger than either of these two blocks are those who continue to support a different option.  I believe it’s impossible to resolve this political grid lock in less than 90 days.

A Country that can change its mind is a brave and courageous place.  It has wisdom.  The ability to consider, reflect and change is an admirable characteristic.  It’s the action of a mature and strong liberal democracy.   We have one of the worlds largest economic bloc on our doorstep.  Our history is a European history.  The cultural ties are deep.

At the time of the year when we look back but also look forward, we can say; I’d like to change for the better and rebuild.  I’d like to make the most of our European Union membership.  I’d like to be at the heart of Europe.   Let’s vote.

Brexit & Aviation 53

Thanks to the entry into force of Regulation (EU) No 996/2010 on the investigation and prevention of accidents and incidents in civil aviation, there’s a European Network of Civil Aviation Safety Investigation Authorities (ENCASIA).  This coordination group came together in early 2011, while I was at EASA at the receiving end of their Safety Recommendations.

There’s 90 days left until the Brexit countdown runs out on 29th March 2019[1].  Even in a so called “No Deal” Brexit, there’s a proposal for an EU Regulation to extend temporarily (for 9 months) the validity of certain aviation safety licences.  But as far as I can see there’s nothing proposed in relation to Regulation (EU) No 996/2010.

ENCASIA works on improving the quality of air safety investigations and strengthening the independence of the national investigating authorities.  In the past, there’s often been conflicts between judicial authorities and those tasked with independent technical investigations.

Safety investigation authorities vary greatly in size and experience across Europe.   Two of the largest are the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile[2] in France and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch in the UK[3].

Can we assume that Brexit of no Brexit these important aviation safety organisations will continue to work together?  Let’s hope so.  It’s essential that safety concerns that are Europe wide are addressed across Europe.







European airports and drones

I’m hesitant to put down a few words on drones after the London Gatwick event.  It may not be a time to be best received but at least the event is fresh in people’s minds.  December’s unfortunate events at Gatwick struck me as being a poor example of risk management.  Accepted that the outcome was a safe one.

Is it right to be risk averse?  This is not a simple question given that “risk” runs a huge spectrum.  Slicing it into two, we have the product of the likelihood of an event and the severity of the same event.   To simplify let’s just talk about the worst-case severity and that’s generally a catastrophe.

In flying terms that’s the loss of an aircraft and all on-board.   In aviation there are emergency procedures, built-in redundancy and a whole host of safety measures to reduce, mitigate or eliminate risk.  Yes, it’s not practically possible to eliminate risk in all events.

Put a drone and an aircraft in the sky together and there’s a risk of collision.  Sharing airspace means managing risk.  There’s no zero-risk solution except to stop the operation of either the drone or the aircraft.  If not zero risk, then what risk is acceptable?

There’s a classical probability term known as “extremely improbable”.  It’s often expressed as a probability of catastrophe per flight hour of aircraft operation.  Much of the design of a large civil aircraft is built on this simple idea.

In the case of a drone suspected of being a hazard to aviation its not so easy to do a safety assessment on the fly.  Normally, a great deal of factual evidence is complied and reviewed as part of any assessment.  There’s a sprinkling of professional judgement that comes into play too.

This is where the precautionary principle[1] can be useful.  If as in the Gatwick case, little is known about the offending drone then its better to assume the upper limit of what it could be.   The problem with being precautionary is that the approach has the tendency to escalate.  Examples of that are emergency calls to the local police about red lights in the sky around Redhill.  The lights turned out to be attached to tall construction cranes.

There then needs to be a counterbalance to this escalation and I’d call that; comparative risk.  Since the dawn of aviation there have been other hazards in the air.  These are birds.  Some are small and flock together[2] and others are large[3].   This risk is managed but it still produces a good number of incidents and accidents.

The drone collision risk can be managed.  What we saw at Gatwick was a poor example of risk management.  Some drone sightings may have been police surveillance drones.

Ideally, since all airports have the same risk to address, there would be a set of common procedures that would be deployed in the event of drone encounters.  The drone risk cannot be eliminated.  So, a common approach to risk reduction and mitigation measures needs to be in place.   I suggest that needs to be done in Europe and done quickly.







Paddy Ashdown

That day in Pittville Pump room[1] in Cheltenham was a wakeup call.  It must have been around 1983/4 as Paddy Ashdown had just been elected as the new MP for Yeovil in Somerset.

Sue and I had not long moved to Cheltenham from Bristol.  We thought; let’s go along and hear what he has to say.  In true Paddy style it was a lively night of anecdotes.  Inspiration sprang from his enthusiasm and shear positive optimism.  In effect he was saying to us – look if I can win in Yeovil you can do it here – it’s just hard work, it’s not magic.

That’s leadership by example.  His practical and inspirational guidance, born of his successes, and failures, shone and lit-up the room.  We both joined the Liberal Party there and then.

Over the last 34 years, there have been many memorable moments campaigning and at conferences where Paddy’s light showed the way.  Here’s just a couple of moments that come to mind for no apparent reason.

Eastbourne was a Lib Dem conference venue that I liked.  The town lacked facilities but to be by the sea in a friendly inviting place made up for it.   It was said at the time that we followed Paddy Ashdown just to see where he would take us next.  It was a polite way of saying that; not everyone agreed but we knew he would never be boring.  One of those end of conference speeches aimed to lift the spirts of the assembly ran off at a tangent.  Paddy slipped in a paragraph about the “information super highway” and how it was going to transform our lives.  What on earth is he talking about?  I knew but most of the audience were bemused.  He’d rightly made us think about the impact of technology on the future of our society.  In hindsight, that was great foresight.

Of the many by-election committee rooms where a visit from Paddy was mandatory, there was never one where the troops didn’t feel extra energy and enthusiasm when it happened.  I’ve a picture in my mind of being at the Witney by-election not so long ago[2].  Just about to pick up a packet of leaflets for delivery there he was chatting with anyone and everyone.  Paddy’s words often came from a standard stable of well-worn motivational ways but every time they were delivered with remarkable freshness and impact.  Boosted, I bet I delivered twice as many leaflets.

Paddy’s internationalism arced over every day to day politically theme.  That I respect that as much as a dozen other convictions.  He gave a lifetime of service to this country.  Combining the wonderful art of heralding community politics at the same time as having a global vision.

RIP Paddy – you will ever remain a great inspiration.  I feel sad but know I shouldn’t.  I’m glad you showed us a way to be ambitious, visionary liberals and decent people.





The New British Etiquette

It may be a whimsical observation but “small talk” on this island is changing.  I come to write this after a whole series of pre-Christmas conservations with strangers.  No, I’m not walking the streets talking at anyone and everyone at random.  It’s the day-to-day chit chat had standing in a queue or across a counter or waiting for a train.  There’s one subject hovering like the ghost of Christmas-past.

It’s a bit like that famous: “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” British recruitment poster from 1915.  That poster has a sobering story when considering that half a million children lost their fathers in WW1.  Early on it aimed to get men to happily sign-up and march off to war.

In a light-hearted way I say: “Sir/Madam, what did YOU do in the great Brexit debate?” Even if I would never dream of asking a stranger that question outright, it is in that back of my mind.   From the reaction of people, it’s obvious to me that the question is in the mind of others too.  The question is starting to condition the way we interact in everyday situations.

There I was in a railway coffee shop, sitting next to a radiator and feeling chilly.  One of the lads clearing tables remarked that the heating was out over the entire station.  They were trying to fix it, but we’d probably got the best spot to sit out of the wind.  Guy sitting next to me, reading the Telegraph, grinned and we struck up a conversation.  That was the moment when I wondered. I couldn’t help it.  It was clear he was reading the latest Brexit story in the newspaper.  He was early retirement age.  He was well dressed.  Did I dare make a comment about how ridiculous the Brexit debate had become?

The New British Etiquette that I’m suggesting exists, is a new sense that helps people quickly assess if small talk is going to be well received and pleasant or turn into an awkward moment or worse.

The upshot of the railway station story was we both agreed that Brexit had become ridiculous.  When he was working fulltime, he’d been a regular commuter.  Now, he was grateful not having to do the daily run into London.  The conversation warmed.

Next occasion I had to test the new sense of etiquette was in a supermarket queue.  Pre-Christmas, and at the wrong time, Sainsburys looked like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie.  Full baskets and tired shoppers meant standing in-line, straining the patience and slowly moving towards the till.

Looking at the chaos and confusion all around the woman next in-line chatted.  We agreed that we had both underestimated how busy the place was going to be at lunchtime.  Then she said a: “I don’t like to mention the B-word but”.  Knockout, I thought now people are testing the water before even mentioning that subject of Brexit.

She’s right.  What could be worse than being stuck in a queue with someone you have taken an instant dislike too?  It was well worth a couple of words to see if I was friendly or hostile.  We both agreed Brexit is crazy.

Up and down this great land there must be thousands of little conversations like these two.  Carefully and tentatively the topic that is as turbulent as religion or tricky as sex, can only be approached after a simple quiz.  That’s the New British Etiquette.

Brexit & Aviation 52

Brexit continues to be a damaging process that is divisive for the Nation and the Government.  There’s now under 100 days left until the Brexit countdown runs out on 29th March 2019.

Edits and additions to the UK Government’s technical notices, to say to us all that a Brexit ‘No Deal’ is no longer an ‘unlikely’ outcome do little to reassure.  Now, the European Commission (EC) has adopted measures that will avoid full interruption of air traffic between the EU and the UK in the event of No Deal.  These measures are subject to the UK conferring equivalent rights to EU air carriers, as well as the UK ensuring fair competition.  Proposal for a “No Deal” Regulation[1] cover one year long temporary provision of basic air services between the UK and the EU.   UK airlines would no longer be allowed to land and transit in the EU[2].  The freedoms of the air are described in the ICAO Manual on the Regulation of International Air Transport (Doc 9626, Part 4).

Now that we have a Withdrawal Agreement (WA) on the table, British MPs need to give it their full consideration over the Christmas holidays.  However, the indications remain that the WA will not be supported in the UK Parliment.  Thus, we (UK) keep putting off the time when we can move on and look beyond, to future opportunities.

A safety net that gives only ‘basic connectivity’ is not a deal and it’s an enormous degrading of current citizens’ rights.  Life as a “third country” will mean that many of the benefits we take for granted will go overnight.

Lots of costly duplication will start to creep into aviation activities.  Now, the UK CAA has opened advanced applications for UK organisations wishing to seek a UK Design Organisation Approval (DOA) as part of their contingency planning.

Let’s be clear; a “No Deal” outcome, accidental or otherwise, is as a result of a choice.  A choice made by a Prime Minister and a minority of Conservative politicians.

There’s a different choice possible.  We do not have to give up the significant advantages of EU membership.  That would maintain Britain’s good jobs and earning power, but it takes a change of view.  It takes action in Parliament.



Responding to the Brexit Blog of Reigate’s MP (Part 3)

In the UK’s representative democracy, an MP is a representative, so they are not excepted to have any specific skills or education or knowledge.  They are selected by a political Party and then stand before the electorate in a defined constituency.  Thus, I should not be shocked or surprised when reviewing material published by Reigate’s current MP.  One thing is clear, The MP does not understand how industry and regulation work.

The term “regulation” is not used in the general description of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Yes, it does have Member States, but it does not have a framework of directly applicable law.  WTO administers the trade agreements that are the foundation of rules.  It’s an international intergovernmental bureaucracy with a slow-moving Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).

Today, the 28 Member States of the EU are WTO members.  They work together since the EU has a single customs union with a single trade policy and tariffs.  That will not change if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.   The EU’s single trade policy and tariffs, as declared to the WTO, will apply to the UK as a “third country” in relation to the EU.

Unlike, ICAO[1] in the world of aviation the WTO is not a UN agency.  In fact, US President Trump says he will abandon the global trade body “if they don’t shape up”[2].

There are some Westminster MPs, who might be called “neo-imperialists” in the UK, who fail to recognise that the EU is the UK’s largest trading partner[3].  Post Brexit, the EU’s economy is about 7 times bigger than the UK’s.  If Brexit happens it’s imperative that detailed trade negotiations start early in 2019.

The threat of a “No Deal” outcome to the Brexit negotiations sets a dreadful precedent for future negotiations.  If the UK rejects the WA and PD that has been tabled, then there’s not much basis for improving the UKs position as a “third country” in existing EU legislation.  And a great deal of “good will” will have been expended.  Naturally, the option to remain as a powerful EU Member States is currently possible too.

Some Ministers are touting the notion of a “Managed No Deal”.  This is an entirely false prospectus since no ad-hoc last-minute fixes are offered by our partners.

The other, disruptive notion is to withhold funds during an agreed transition period.  This is extreme bad faith since the UK accepted the EU’s multiannual financial framework during its membership.  Why would anyone sign a generous Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with a former partner acting in such bad faith?  Other world States, looking on, may then take a similar view.  This strategy is foolhardy.

[1] International Civil Aviation Organisation






Responding to the Brexit Blog of Reigate’s MP (Part 2)

One of the most disagreeable aspect of the arguments made by hard-core Brexiters is that when they are cornered they just revert to slogans and slurs.  There have been too many to count but include such nebulous stuff as; Take Back Control, Brexit means Brexit and references to the “establishment”.

One issue on which I do agree with Reigate’s current MP is that the Prime Minister’s deal is a bad one.  As an EU Member State, we (UK) had a vote and the means to influence and change European legislation.  The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) means applying EU law in the UK for at least two years after 29 March next year.  To an extent this is a given, as current EU law is being translated into UK law at this moment.  I believe the problem arises in automatically adopting changes that we (UK) had no means amend or reject.  This is hardly a return of the sovereignty we pooled as a Member State.

Accompanying the WA is a Political Declaration (PD).  This is problematic too.  Much as it is advantageous to have an indication of future intentions of the part of both EU and UK, the whole document is remarkably nebulous.  It might be said that the PD is better than nothing, but it doesn’t much help decision-makers or investors who must act in the transition period.

Put the WA and PD together and they become the starting point for another couple of years of difficult negotiations between the EU and UK.  Clearly, it would be in both sides strong interests to arrive at a new deal at the end of the transition period.  That new EU-UK deal could be a model for many others across the globe.

Reigate’s current MP anticipates failure in this endeavour even before it starts.  I’m often shocked how little confidence is shown in professional British civil servants.  You could say; if they can’t get a good win-win deal with our partners of 40 years what hope is there for the rest of the world?  None.

In the end, no deal can be as good as the deal we already have as an EU Member State.

Today, there are 28 EU Member States.  The membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has 164 members.  Just do the maths.  Negotiating with a smaller number is undoubtably easier than with a larger number.  In the media there’re endless naive statements made about reverting to WTO rules.  Almost no one trades only on WTO rules and those rules don’t cover many vital sectors.

We (UK) would pay a heavy cost for a “No Deal” outcome between the EU and UK.  It is not a sane option.


Responding to the Brexit Blog of Reigate’s MP (Part 1)

The start of the arguments of the Reigate MP are built on sand[1].   One of the fundamentals of the European Union (EU) is that it’s a product of the will of its Member States.  To assume that “integration” is a foregone conclusion is to claim that you have a unique knowledge of the future.  The general trend is for those advocating greater integration to be declining in political influence.   The coming European elections will change the political landscape considerably.  In fact, we have a greater problem in the UK with our highly centralised institutions.

The EU has a powerful role on the international stage.  That role will grow.  As part of the EU this has given the UK increasing influence in the regions and global institutions.   Often other regions of the world look to the EU as a role model and a source of solutions to complex intergovernmental issues.

After years and years of turmoil in the UK a Conservative Party Prime Minister made the choice to hold an advisory referendum hoping that this move would resolve a divisive political issue.   It was a poor gamble.  Of the topics of most concern to the British people the EU was low down on the list until the referendum was announced.

A whole series of dreadful mistruths formed a campaign that traded on fantasy projections.   The legalities of the campaign are being questioned in the law courts.  Over all this a slim margin gave the “Leave” campaigners a win.  In most Countries constitutional changes require more than a simple majority but this did not happen in the UK.  Effectively the referendum result caused the biggest single division the UK has ever recorded.

The situation became so bad that a snap General Election was called in 2017.  Unfortunately, this ill-judged move created even more national problems.  To sum up recent events.  We have had, two General Elections, one referendum and two votes on the leadership of the Conservative Party.  However, despite these events we have a solid log jam in the UK Parliament.

Now, the arguments for a final Referendum on the deal, that is now in front of the UK Parliament, are strong.  Going back to the British people is essential when there’s no clear way forward coming from either the Government or the UK Parliament.  Democracy does not end in one day.  Many prominent Leave campaigners made exactly this point before June 2016.   The ballot is owned by the people not self-serving politicians.   Don’t let them tell you: you can’t have a People’s Vote.  The choice is clear: the deal on the table or to Remain in the EU.

The Prime Minister and her officials have succeeded in proposing an EU accepted Withdrawal Agreement (WA).  The remaining 27 EU Member States have agreed that WA.  Everyone can read this document and come to a point of view.  Unlike in June 2016, this detailed document is real.

As it stands, one of the greatest difficulties with the WA is that, at least for 2 years, it makes the UK a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker.  Across the board people are not willing to accept this deal.  Meantime the UK’s Prime Minister is stubborn and deaf to creative and constructive solutions to the impasse.   Parliament needs to assert control and advance a Peoples Vote.

[1] my statement …….. intends to give my constituents a clear overview of my position on this fraught and difficult issue for our country.

The British Crisis

Life is full of “if” this or “if” that but it’s the only way we can plan.  I’m convinced planning is not optional.  Even the simplest diary has one or two dates for things to do in the future.  At work, the saying: failure to plan is a plan to fail often rattled around in my head.

We are getting closer to 29 March 2019.  If no action is taken, no agreement, no revoking of Article 50, no new referendum then the UK leaves without a deal and all EU treaties will end on 29 March 2019.  There are some extremely foolish people who are looking forward to the hardship and suffering that this will cause but thankfully they are in the minority.   The real danger is interminable muddle, incompetence and inaction.  A great Country, such as ours, should not be entertaining any thought of “crashing out” of a relationship of 40 years.  The only triumph would be of failure.

It would be nice to switch off from the political twists and turns at Westminster, but this is a time for action.  Englishman Thomas Paine wrote these siring words in late 1776: These are the times that try men’s souls[1].  He was addressing the American crisis of that time.  Here, 242 years later we have the British crisis.  Now, similar stirring words are needed to overthrow the tyranny of the Brexiters and the hell they promise.

The British Crisis.

When it seems that we are overcome, and every door is closing, we must change.  Take a moment to ask the basic question.  Who do we want to be?

June 2016 was like an axe falling.  Division was the only result.  In times of crisis, as now, the ballot is the most powerful right all British citizens have too hand.  And the strength of British genius is creative imagination.  It’s not for us to be dull drones who blindly walk to the cliff edge.  We must take control from a cohort of failed politicians.

Unity is not easily forged.   But it’s a vote that can forge that unity.  A Peoples Vote can free us from this turmoil.  A Peoples Vote to conquer division.  A Peoples Vote so we can lead again in Europe.

[1] THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.