Brexit & Aviation 110

If it happens, leaving the European Union (EU) does not mean that the UK will not have a vital relationship with the organisation in the future.  Sorry about the double negative.  The simple indisputable facts of geography, cultural heritage, shared history, political experience and social bonds mean that a closeness exists that goes way beyond relationships with other places.

Unravelling the UK’s EU membership is only at its beginning and yet it’s proving to be painful and tortuous.  Just now, there’s the possibility of another extension to the initial part of the process.  This possess more choices for Prime Minister Johnson as he twists and turns on the Brexit spit.

There’s hammering on and attempting to leave the EU on 31 October with “No Deal” and then blaming all and sundry.   Genuine short-term thinking in the extreme.  There’s continuing with the detailed Parliamentary scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in the hope that it will not take long or be too mean a radical reshaping of the deal.

Finally, there’s stopping the WAB’s scrutiny process with the aim of provoking a UK General Election (GE) and making Christmas 2019 one no none will want to remember.  As in 2017, with the faint hope that one political Party or another will rule the roost as we go into the New Year.

This weekend, the indications are that the last option is taking shape.  Monday may bring a “yes” or “no” to the prospect of a winter election.  Certainly, winter is coming.

When UK Ministers talk of the fantastic opportunities there are for new free trade deals all over the world there’s a tendency to forget aviation and the aerospace industries.  By its nature aviation is a global business.  Within that mobility is nothing new.  Go to Seattle or Toulouse and there’s many Brits who have made their home in those cities.

The term: “Brain Drain” was prevalent throughout my early education[1].  It was when highly qualified British engineers and scientists were attracted to leave the UK to work on exciting well-funded projects and for better prospects in other Countries.  Even in the early 1980s, when I graduated as a young engineer many of my colleagues left these shores and didn’t return.

If it happens, I’d dearly love to be optimistic about post-Brexit prospects in the UK, but the signs are not good.  Amongst politicians and public alike, not only is there an endemic backward-looking nostalgia but also a lack of realism about the nature of the international cooperation needed to succeed in the future.

Today, the economic situation is different from the 1970s, but the weaknesses of that time like; low productivity, short-termism and the lack of a common vision remain with us.  Brexit is the wrong medicine for our ailments.

[1] http://doc.ukdataservice.ac.uk/doc/6099/mrdoc/pdf/6099uguide.pdf

Brexit & Aviation 109

Preposterous isn’t a big enough word to sum up what’s going on in respect of the UK Government’s approach to the UK Parliament.   Having entirely messed-up during the special session on Saturday last, the UK Prime Minister (PM) has tried to ask the same question again of the House of Commons (HoC) and been sent packing.  Therefore, it stands that the HoC has not approved the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and has called for the PM to secure an extension under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union until at least 31 January 2020 for the purpose of holding an early General Election (GE) before the end of the extension period.   Will this happen?  We have yet to see.

In conversation, I find that even amongst those who avidly follow the progress of Brexit there’s an incorrect notion.   It’s that the WA represents a deal between the EU and UK that defines their future relationship.  That’s not so.  The WA can be described as a divorce settlement and thus needs to be binding.  That said, the accompanying document, titled Political Declaration (PD), setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK is not binding.  The PD is essentially a starting point for the next even more complex and difficult negotiation.

Rushing these historic and complex texts through the legislative process is causing concern.  There has been more than 3-years of ups and downs and backwards and forwards, but the final legal text has only just been put in front of Members of Parliament.  The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is not an easy read.

Industry continues to highlight the importance of avoiding a No Deal Brexit, but there’s some relief that the text on regulatory cooperation on aviation safety is positive[1].  The text is vague about close cooperation between the EU’s EASA and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but at least they are both explicitly mentioned.

Today, high standards of aviation safety are achieved by having common standards and sharing technical expertise and experience.  As the two parties separate there’s a considerable need to keep a close eye on new arrangements and any tendency to diverge for political reasons and not technical ones.  Cooperation doesn’t just happen ad-hoc.  It requires a dedicated effort and active mechanisms to make it work.  Confidence building initiatives take time when different means are used to get to the same outcome.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/revised-political-declaration_en

Brexit & Aviation 108

After a day of drama, Britain awakes this Sunday with no clear view of what happens next.  The clock keeps ticking and, if deadlines mean anything, then the next one is 11 days away.

It’s true that under no circumstances was disentangling the UK from a 40 years relationship with the European Union (EU) going to be easy.  Are we heading towards a new postponement?  It seems highly likely regardless of the UK Prime Minister’s (PM) latest letter[1].  It seems that PM Johnson is taking advice from P G Wodehouse: “It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”  We could argue about who’s right and who’s wrong but let’s look at what’s on the table instead.

One of the biggest changes that is evident in the new Withdrawal Agreement (WA) concerns the “level playing field”.  That is that the binding commitments for the UK to maintain minimum standards in the areas of social and environmental policy, tax, competition and State aid have been removed from the WA.  The detailed discussion has been put off to the post-Brexit EU-UK negotiating phases.  A closer future relationship means more obligations and a looser relationship means less and this will be linked to the level of market access.   A framework for the future relationship is set out in a new Political Declaration[2].

Looking at the House of Common (HoC) business for Monday, 21 October 2019, several motions for approval of Statutory Instruments (SIs) are to be agreed.  The reality for Brexit is that much existing European regulation is being incorporated in UK law[3].  Many of the proposed changes are to align the text with the appropriate UK institutions as opposed to the European ones.

Therefore, whatever future changes there may be to the “level playing field” and this applies to aviation as much as anything, at least initially both EU and UK will be pretty much aligned.  The political direction post-Brexit will greatly depend on the outcome of a pending UK General Election (GE).  That must come given that the UK Government trying to do all this has no majority in the UK Parliament and a record of loosing votes.

We are in a fast-moving and unpredictable environment.  It’s a good idea not to make too many knee-jerk reactions or draw too many conclusions.  PM Johnson has, in a half-hearted manner applied for an extension to the Thursday, 31 October 2019 end date.  We will soon see if this is granted by all the parties involved.  Ongoing political and economic uncertainty may yet signal the end of the Brexit project.  The genuine technical reality of the benefits of working together for the common good in Europe remains.

[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840660/PM_to_Donald_Tusk_19_October_2019.pdf

[2] Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom;

[3] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201920/cmagenda/ob191021.htm#_idTextAnchor005

Brexit & Aviation 107

Remarkable as it may seem we are just 18 days to UK Prime Minister Johnson’s artificial Brexit deadline of 31st October 2019[1].  Whatever happens next, we know relative to the UK’s current EU Membership, Johnson’s proposals are substantially negative[2].

We know the opinion polls are showing that the British public has turned against Brexit.  Brexit means bureaucracy, debt, less choice, loss of influence and perpetual turmoil.  Why on earth would anyone still want it?  Even those who might want it are likely to say they don’t want what’s on offer.  For example, the DUP in Northern Ireland has already rejected the notion of a “double customs” solution[3].

Next weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets to demand a People’s Vote in what will be one of the largest protests in British history.  There’s still someway to go before this matter is settled.  Clearly, the European Union (EU) wants to avoid a disorderly Brexit and establish as close a future relationship as possible with the UK.  I hope that that wish is reciprocated.

In aviation, about 1 in 10 UK pilots think Brexit is positive[4].  I don’t know if cabin crew, air traffic controllers or engineers have been surveyed on the same subject.  That said, I’d be surprised if the result was different for any of the aviation professions.

Civil aviation has a well-established system for reporting what happened when things go wrong.  There’s a mature system under REGULATION (EU) No 376/2014[5] that states the rights and responsibilities of people in the European aviation system.  This is a way of sharing aviation safety information between authorities in the EU.

It’s vital.  Let’s say an aircraft has an undercarriage failure in Spain.  Then weeks later a similar type of aircraft has a similar failure in Finland.  It’s vital to join the dots to ensure the authorities fully understand what’s going on in day-to-day operations.  Much of this safety information is shared via the European Central Repository (ECR) called into being by EU legislation.  As a non-EU State and not being a member of EASA, the UK will lose direct access to the ECR[6].  Yes, information can be requested from the ECR through a written procedure but that’s no substitute to having direct access to the database.  I expect this is one of the many important issues associated with data sharing that are just waiting to pop out of Brexit.

[1] https://interactive.news.sky.com/2017/brexit-countdown/

[2] https://ukandeu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/The-economic-impact-of-Boris-Johnsons-Brexit-proposals.pdf

[3]https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2019/10/12/news/dup_s_nigel_dodds_rejects_double_customs_brexit_solution_it_cannot_work_-238366257/?refresh_ce

[4] https://www.balpa.org/Media-Centre/Press-Releases/Only-one-in-ten-pilots-think-Brexit-will-be-positi

[5] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:JOL_2014_122_R_0002&rid=24

[6] https://info.caa.co.uk/brexit/ocurrence-reporting/

Brexit & Aviation 106

I’m waiting for the headline: The European Union (EU) has agreed to extend #Article50 a third time.  This could delay any possible #Brexit until June 2020.  Now, that sounds a lot saner than jumping off a cliff edge.  Especially if Britain and Ireland say they can bridge the gap between their two positions.  The Pound Sterling shot up as the markets took stock of the News that Prime Minister Johnson may not want to force us out of the EU on October 31st with No Deal.   Nevertheless, there’s a hell of a lot of people who remain with no trust in this administration.  The cold hard reality is that agreeing with Ireland most likely means the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)[1] will be very unhappy.  Then the prospect of getting any deal through the UK Parliament gets even harder.

Amongst the latest news from Ireland is a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)[2] on Brexit from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).  Post Brexit Ireland realises that it will need to develop new trade routes, especially those of air transport.

In the UK a “No-Deal Readiness Report” has just been released[3].  The part of the Government document on UK airlines highlights that Brexit means more bureaucracy and not less as some people may have claimed:

  • UK airlines operating to and from the EU will need to obtain a Part-TCO safety authorisation from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and an operating permit from each relevant Member State. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website provides extensive and detailed information on the actions that airlines need to take on its website.
  • UK aviation personnel involved in the operation and maintenance of aircraft (pilots, cabin crew, engineers and air traffic controllers) will need to ensure they have obtained the relevant licences and safety authorisations from the CAA and EASA. The CAA website provides extensive and detailed information for the action that personnel and UK airlines need to take.
  • EU airlines will need to apply for an operating permit from the CAA, their website provides extensive and detailed information on the actions that EU airlines need to take.

Further on the document is quite clear that UK regulatory bodies will no longer be able to license products for the EU market.  UK regulators will take on regulatory functions currently carried out by EU regulatory bodies, like the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Cologne.  Further on in section E, the document talks about Aerospace goods.  It doesn’t make pleasant reading.  If the UK leaves without a deal, the EASA will no longer automatically recognise aviation safety certificates and approvals issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Aerospace companies continue to warn of “serious risk” in current plan, as the UK Government fails to reassure them about participation in EU agencies.   It might be nice to think that the UK will continue to be a global aviation leader but in this new situation it will be in competition with its former partners.  I suppose few who voted in 2016 realised any of this would be an outcome in 2020.

[1] The Democratic Unionist Party is a unionist political party in Northern Ireland favouring British identity

[2] https://www.iaa.ie/news/2019/10/02/iaa-publishes-brexit-faqs

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/no-deal-readiness-report

Brexit & Aviation 105

The title of this Government’s Brexit proposals could be called: I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.  But that title has been taken by a long-running BBC Radio comedy series.  And I do mean long-running.  The last series was number 71.  If you listen to this clip of “The Uxbridge Dictionary[1]” it might mask the Brexit murk for a minute or two.  By the way, Uxbridge is the Parliamentary Constituency of the Prime Minister.

Here’s a point to clarify.  I keep seeing references to the global aviation regulator ICAO.

Now, as I have mentioned before, ICAO is the International Civil Aviation Organisation.  It’s the organisations 75th birthday this year and that’s good reason to celebrate.  It brings together 193 of the world’s States.  However, ICAO is not a “regulator”.  It does not issue approvals, licences or certificates.  It does not have enforcement powers, like a CAA.  I was going to say that it does not investigate aviation accidents but, I believe it has in one or two special cases.

A key technical role of ICAO is to set Standards and Recommended Practices.  From that the States develop their own framework of legislation that empowers their organisations, sometimes called Agencies or Authorities or Administrations or Directorates to do the regulatory work.

It must be like this given that there’s a great range of different legal systems across the globe.  In fact, those who created ICAO recognised this reality from day one and it’s enshrined in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention[2].   The Convention is explicit about the complete and exclusive sovereignty of contracting States.  Although as I learned last week there’s one or two exceptions to this exclusivity.

The European Union (EU) is recognised as a regional organisation at ICAO.  Nevertheless, each European State has, or shares a delegation at ICAO’s HQ in Montreal.   When it comes to making policy for international civil aviation the EU Member States work together.  Coordination is vital to make an impact inside a multinational and multicultural organisation like ICAO.

Yet, its unclear how Brexit will change this arrangement, or if it will change at all.  The opportunity to work together on common interests is always possible.  On issues, like climate change it’s highly likely that Europe and the US will have more in common than say; China, India and Russia.

Where difficulties are more likely are when technical standards in Europe and the US differ.  Then the possibility of competition to set international standards might present awkward choices.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p00vm9vk

[2] https://www.icao.int/publications/pages/doc7300.aspx

 

Brexit & Aviation 104

The more I write these short Blogs, the more I talk about the subject, the more I’m no longer surprised that the complexity of the changes that are underway are not in the public mind.   Issues that I consider to be of great magnitude and changes of real concern are more for the specialist.   The detail of how the aviation system works is indeed specialist knowledge.

As an airline passenger, getting on a flight, we all take for granted a huge number of complicated interacting systems that we expect to work without us needing to understand how they work.  Just like when I pick-up my iPhone.  Even as a professional engineer, I only have a superficially knowledge of how my iPhone does what it does, but I do expect it to work every time.

So, how do we have any kind of discussion about good, bad or indifferent impacts of Brexit when we skit over the detail?  The answer is that we need to trust someone.  Trust a person to tell the truth, as best they know, about the potential impacts of Brexit.  Now if you have a list of different types of people and you ask: “tell me if you generally trust them to tell the truth, or not?” the results do stand up well for the specialist.  Being and Engineer, I’m heartened to see that “Engineers” are right up in the rankings[1].  Government Ministers and politicians are right at the bottom of the rankings.

So, why do so many people appear to believe politicians when they dismiss professional views on the impact of Brexit?  So called “Project Fear” is often quoted.  This seems counter to the evidence.   Or is it that what we may think is happening isn’t happening at all.  Maybe Government Ministers and politicians are not believed at all when dismissing professional views.  In fact, a big delusion exists.

Let’s put that to one side and look at where we are.  Now just into the new month we are days away from the European Union (EU) summit planned for 17 – 18 October.  UK law requires the UK Government to ask for a further extension to the existing deadline of 31 October.  The “Benn” law does not stop the extension request being submitted before the summit, but the expectation is that a request will be made after the summit.  Much depends on the results of the EU summit (European Council meeting).

Before the above the UK Government will hold a Queen’s Speech on Monday, 14 October.  This Queen’s Speech may be important in the sense that it could set out the next steps.  It’s strange in many ways given that the Government has no working majority.  The Queen’s Speech debate in Parliament on 15-17 and 21-22 October will be a sham.

Meanwhile, the UK Parliament’s Brexit Select Committee hasn’t met since before Prime Minister Johnson prorogued the UK Parliament in September.  So, is anyone looking at the detailed lawmaking that’s going on at the moment?

Let me be rash and speculate.  Looking 9 months ahead.  I think the European Council will make progress, but it will not resolve Brexit and UK will ask for an extension and it will be granted.  To apply leverage the UK Government will threaten to be uncooperative or at least an unhelpful Member State during the new extension period.  Politically, blame will be flying all over the place, but it will be so scattered that much of it will not stick in one place for long.

The new deadline will be the 4th anniversary of the 2016 referendum and will fall in June 2020.  Thus, there’s a high probability of a May 2020 UK General Election.  In many places, coincident with the UK local elections.  That’s where the new deal, of whatever shape and form it takes, will be out there in front of the British electorate.  By then the 27 EU Member States would have already agreed to it in principle.

[1] https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2018-11/veracity_index_2018_v1_161118_public.pdf

 

Brexit & Aviation 103

This week, I have had the great pleasure of being in Canada and I mean that without hesitation or reservation.  Here in Montreal the sun shines one day and then the next the rain comes thundering down.  Flowers are still blooming, and the leaves are just contemplating leaving the trees.  All in all, it’s a perfect time to be in the city.

The last time I participated in the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO’s) 3-yearly Assembly was 6-years ago.  That was the 38th Assembly and this one is the 40th.  It’s noticeable how much less paper there is this time and how much more reliance there is on Apps[1], phones and tablets.  During Assembly Sessions, ICAO’s complete work programme in the technical, economic, legal and technical cooperation fields are reviewed[2].  Over 2000 people took part in the event.

In international aviation several of the major subjects under discussion are forever with us.  Reminding delegates of one of the biggest subjects all work stopped on Friday.  The biggest climate change march in Canada took place here in Montreal.  An estimated half a million people paraded through the city with serious intent but in an altogether carnival atmosphere.

Being here as an observer reminds me how much effort is required to get agreement between the 193 States of ICAO.  It’s a huge credit to the organisation’s secretariat that the Assembly runs like clockwork even when changes are made at the last minute.  EU Member States play a significant part in the proceedings of the Assembly.  Each as a sovereign State but acting together with a common purpose.  The UK is part of that European team.

The ICAO Assembly completed its selection of the 36 States that will oversee its work over the next period.  This is a complex voting arrangement that engages the States’ delegations for the first part of the Assembly.  The UK is one of those States selected to sit on the organisation’s Council[3].

Now, with Brexit I wonder what will happen in 3-years’ time.  Perhaps it’s less wise to speculate on that question than it may have been even a couple of weeks ago.  The situation is so turbulent as each party makes a final push to achieve their ends.

One truth is clear.  If people are serious about tackling global issues, like climate change, then organisations like ICAO have a pivotal role to play.  The more fragmentation of views there is in the world then the harder it will be to coordinate effective actions.   It’s hard enough now.

[1] https://www.icao.int/Meetings/a40/Pages/mobile-app.aspx

[2] https://www.icao.int/Meetings/a40/pages/default.aspx

[3] https://twitter.com/icao/status/1177957655299538946?s=20