Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 1

The UK flag has been taken down at the European Union (EU) Council building in Brussels.  This is one of the actions that marks Brexit.  After almost 50 years of EU membership and 3 years of acrimony over the vote to leave, the UK has formally left the EU.  Now, the EU and the UK enter a transition period during which detailed talks take place[1].   The transition period is due to end on 31 December 2020.  So, time is short, and ambitions are high.  If there’s a pragmatic upside to these events, it does make it more difficult for national politicians to use the EU as a scapegoat.  That said, given the propensity to use blame as a way of avoiding accountability then no doubt a new target will be found.

As we enter what will be another frantic period, both parties to the EU-UK negotiations are setting out their shop windows.  The consequences of this, is that, and so on.  What’s unusual about these negotiations is that there are two parties start with free trade and a level playing field but talk of erecting barriers as they go.  Usually, it’s the other way around whereby the aim of detailed negotiations is to remove barriers.  To any dispassionate observer this does seem to be wacky.

In the aviation sector, will the UK continue to participate in the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) systems and comply with European regulations?   In the short-term there’s time for a transition but a transition to what in 11 months?  In the long-term, a relationship on aviation is to be determined but what are the aims and objectives?

Based on my experience of setting up a new international Aviation Agency, I’d make the following simple recommendations:

  • Recognise that aviation regulation is both social and technical. The political domain must heed the technical and vice-versa.  The public demand mutual respect.
  • Respecting aviation’s legacy at the same time as being innovative in regulation requires a deft touch. Products have long lives and technology advances rapidly.  Avoid excessive prescription accepting that some is necessary.  Be clear about performance objectives.
  • Treat all 3 of these capabilities as equally important, being: Reactive, Pro-active and Prognostic. The first inevitable because the last is imperfect.  Day-to-day the most important is what you are doing – now.
  • Big or small, the Boardroom and the shop floor have equal importance. Top-down: safety is number one.  Bottom-up: actions directly impact safety.  Never create too many complex layers between these two parts of an organisation.
  • Don’t take on more actions than your regulatory system of processes and procedures can work effectively.  Trying to satisfy everyone ends in disappointment.  Trying to sweep concerns under the carpet ends in tragedy.
  • Embrace new knowledge but don’t become allured by aggressive marketing. Verification and validation can’t be skipped just because of the confidence of the promoter.

There’s much more that can be said but the six items above come to mind.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership_en

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