Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 2

Watching UK Prime Minister Johnson’s speech[1], made in Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich yesterday, there’s no doubt the setting was impressive.  The words were not so impressive.  In fact, they were downright confusing. Phrases like: “Free trade is the only certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace” are peculiar given that the UK has just left one of the world’s most successful projects for free trade and peace.

There were jaunty references to being like Canada, or Australia or something akin to these two Commonwealth States.  The vision painted by Johnson had none of the precision or artistry of the walls in the recently restored Painted Hall[2].   Even so, there was an echoing theme that the UK wouldn’t follow any rules other than its own.

The reference to a country that’s bigger in physical size but smaller in population and that has a larger neighbour to the south, is interesting from an aviation perspective.  It’s true that Canada has its own aviation regulatory structure.  It hosts the international organisation that is responsible for aviation standards, namely ICAO.  In addition, it has major aerospace design, manufacturing and maintenance companies as well as international operators.

However, Canada’s free trade agreement (CETA) with the European Union (EU) doesn’t eliminate all tariffs and quotas.  Built over many years, for aviation there is a level of mutual recognition between Canada and the EU.

In 2011, an agreement on civil aviation safety between the EU and Canada entered into force[3].  Part of this agreement includes detailed working arrangements.  This international cooperation was agreed when both sides demonstrated to the other that they had the regulatory competence and capacity to satisfy each other’s needs.  The work is by no means finished.

So, yes perhaps it is the case that carbon copy rules, or complete harmonisation between parties is not the only route to mutual recognition.  Usually, regulatory differences exist not because parties want them to exist for their own sake but that each party has a different set of experiences.  In design certification, the reason for a great number of rules and standards can be traced back to accidents and incidents.  Not everyone has had the same history or operates in the same environment (social, political, economic and so on).  Regulatory maturity is only established over decades.  Then regulators can assess each other’s systems and decide that arrangements, like accepting each other’s certificates can be done safely.  What I’ve described doesn’t happen overnight.  A conservative, with a small “c”, approach is taken to aviation safety because the consequences of getting it wrong can be tragic.




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.