Collaboration is essential especially when action needs to be taken fast. Seeing members of the aerospace industries coming together to scale up the production of medical ventilators is heartening. It’s important to use all our expertise to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those on the Coronavirus front line.
There are credible experts predicting that the forced shutdown will permanently reshape the aviation industry. Already the early retirement of large aircraft is taking place at several international airlines. For example, most Boeing 747-400s are more than 20 years old and airlines are replacing them with more fuel-efficient modern types.
The coronavirus pandemic means airlines are drastically reducing their passenger flights. It’s likely this will cause a spate of order cancellations as costs are being cut. Hitting not only aircraft manufactures but maintenance, repair and overhaul providers too.
EasyJet is reported to be parking its 344 aircraft with an aim to removes significant cost. In the months it takes to contain the COVID19 virus the aviation industry will struggle to avoid permanent damage. It’s appealing to Governments for the waiving of air traffic control and regulatory charges for the whole of the year.
On Brexit, polls now show that most people in the UK want the Government to seek an extension to the transition period to focus on coronavirus recovery. Many experts believe there’s no prospect of Britain striking a Brexit trade deal with the EU without an extension to the transition period. So far, UK Ministers have simply refused to consider this common-sense approach. It has been said that the outcome of the first Brexit Joint Committee, held this week, was like watching two people looking down different ends of a telescope.
In other news, British Airways has suspended its operations at London Gatwick Airport. In addition, the airport has announced that on 1 April it will close its North Terminal. That sobering for me, having last travelled through the North Terminal on 20 March.
If you take a snapshot of a few hours of air traffic over a couple of days recently there’s a massive drop in air traffic across Europe. This is expected to go down more as repatriation flights complete their tasks. Although some airports are closing there’s still going to be the need to ship vital cargo around so air traffic will not drop to zero as it did ten years ago during the volcanic ash events. However, this time the shut down is going to be longer and covers a lot of the globe. This coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the aviation industry.
Internationally, ICAO has issued COVID-19 calls to Governments, urging better coordination with aircraft operators on air services and the flight restrictions in force. A situation where national Governments all take different actions is only going to increase the pain caused. The coronavirus knows no borders and no politics. It will create economic casualties across all parts of Europe.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that aviation safety depends on highly qualified professionals continuing to work in the most difficult circumstances.
We do see the curse of English exceptionalism as Brexit rumbles on. This is particularly true if the UK crashes out of current arrangements in June. UK Minister Gove wants to continue with UK-EU negotiations when we should be putting all our efforts into defeating the pandemic.
In negotiations, reports are the UK has tabled draft texts outlining separate proposed agreements on subjects that include aviation and transport. The texts are not public, so this is all behind closed doors for now.
The UK has left the European Medicine Agency which at one time was based in London. To me this a wholly unwise thing to have done under the current circumstances. European solidarity can strengthen our ability to win against COVID-19. Even if few politicians are putting that case in the UK Parliament. In fact, the House of Commons (HoCs) has adjourned for the Easter recess and will only next sit on 21 April 2020. Unfortunately, people are mostly thinking nationally and yet this is a global issue.
Wisely, given the crisis the UK CAA has notified a delay in an increase in its scheme of charges. This will be reviewed in June 2020. These will be changed when the long-term UK-EU aviation relationship has been determined.
Europe, the world, we are all engulfed in an unprecedented situation. The spread of coronavirus #COVID19 is a clear and present danger to all. These are times like no other. It’s imperative that urgent action is taken. The EASA has issued a safety directive mandating disinfection of aircraft flying from high risk areas to combat spread of coronavirus.
Having just returned from a week in Tenerife, I’m grateful for the efforts of TUi for repatriating a lot of holidaymakers at a difficult time. Our flight back to London Gatwick was as per schedule but for many of our fellow passengers their stay had been terminated and they were put on flights at short notice. Fortunately, the Brexit transition period meant that no undue difficulties arose getting our British registered Boeing 757 to and from Spain.
A week is a long time in politics. The first post-Brexit UK budget now seems like a distant memory. Yet, it was only on 12 March that this took place in Parliament. It was a budget that resolutely refused to talk about Brexit, seeming to pretend that the subject was done and dusted. Now, the British Chancellor has been on his feet again and huge measures of change are rippling through Government and all parts of UK society. The decisions of days ago are dwarfed by the new moves to defeat coronavirus. The impact on aviation is like nothing that has gone before.
Nevertheless, the issues for aviation raised in my last blog remain pertinent. Brexit is not done. Yes, the efforts of the civil service must be directed at the current emergency. In fact, that’s a good reason to suspend all formal negotiations between UK and EU and put more time aside after the global health emergency has subsided.
The current emergency should bring the two parties closer together for their mutual benefit. Then it’s time to review decisions that may have been made so far but in the light of the new situation. Those that I talk to says that the UK national interest remains best served by continuing membership of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). It was interesting to note the debate that took place in the UK House of Lords during the week.
Transport was discussed in the UK House of Commons on 12 March. MP Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) asked the Minister the question: What is his policy on the UK’s membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency after the end of the transition period. The answer was dogmatic and unimaginative.
Now, I note that a great number of aviation professionals are transferring their license to European authorities like the Irish, Dutch or Belgian to keep their current privileges. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is going to be losing a lot of income from those licensed Pilots and Aircraft Engineers.
What happened on 31 January 2020 was not the end of the Brexit process. On 30 March 2020, the new UK-EU Joint Committee is due to meet. Aviation may not be on the agenda but it’s certainly worth keeping and eye on what’s going on in that committee.
It’s unusual to see such unity amongst aviation organisations across different sectors of the industry. That unity is about the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Established in 2002, the EASA has more than 800 aviation experts and administrators from its Member States. A while back a UK Parliament Select Committee report found: “There is widespread agreement that continued membership of EASA would benefit the UK and the EU.” Aerospace businesses, unions and academia are unanimous in support of remaining in EASA.
The BALPA (The British Airline Pilots Association) said: “we need to maintain current EU and UK access to our aviation markets and to maintain EASA safety regulation”.
UK aviation industry body, ADS’s Chief Executive said: “We have been clear that continued participation in EASA is the best option..”.
Even on Saturday, the UK CAA’s own website continued to say: “The CAA has been clear since the EU referendum that we consider the most positive outcome for UK consumers and the aviation industry would be one where the UK has continued participation in the EASA system with existing systems of mutual recognition between the UK and EASA Member States remaining in place.”
So, there’s one area where people and organisations are overwhelmingly unified – we need to maintain current EU and UK access to our aviation markets and to maintain EASA safety regulations.
It was always on the cards that the new UK Conservative Government would revisits this subject. This was even though the firm planning assumption that everyone had made for the last 4-years was based on the UK’s continued membership of EASA.
Now, the UK Transport Minister with such responsibilities says that the UK will withdraw from the EASA. Implementing that policy change the UK Department for Transport has said: “Being a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency is not compatible with the UK having genuine economic and political independence.” This does not preclude the UK continuing to work with the EU to establish a new regulatory relationship, but it’s a tall order with only 10-months remaining on the clock.
I think this a bad decision. Not sound or rational or in the interests of the UK. Here, I’ll look at the apparent justifications.
Compatibility with genuine economic and political independence
This suggests that membership of the EASA would impede the UK from taking any action it wishes. There are 4 non-EU members of EASA. One of them is our near neighbour Norway. CAA Norway has the responsibility to oversee and regulate all aspects of civil aviation in Norway. That applies to the Norwegian flights that are based out of London Gatwick. In matters of aviation regulation, whether it’s at ICAO, EASA, EUROCONTROL or ECAC Norway speaks with economic and political independence. It applies Norwegian law. It does not seem to be impeded in advancing its aviation interests.
Being a member of EASA is not possible outside Single Market
This has been well debunked. The manner with which non-EU States participate in the EASA is not the Single Market provisions. There is a “Basic Regulation” that establishes EASA. The Article 129 of the Basic Regulation addresses participation of European third countries. Yes, it does say that such non-EU States need to adopt and apply Union law in the fields covered by the Basic Regulation. However, this text does say how this is to be done. In fact, the UK has done this, at least until the 31st December 2020. All that is needed can be done in UK law. If EASA rules or standards are considered to be too low, there’s no impediment to enhancing them as required.
We’ll be wanting to develop our own aircraft certifications
The implication is that the UK will want to do something radically different from the international community. That maybe the case for research into new air vehicles but if the UK wishes to sell such products in the international marketplace it will need to met international rules and standards. A domestic industry providing Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicles will need to compete across the globe. EASA is preparing itself to better support innovation from industry (e.g. Artificial Intelligence, block chain technologies, extensive automation and eVTOL aircraft). Lack of harmonisation, duplication and fragmentation in this field serves no good purpose.
4. UK expertise can be used as leverage in negotiations
Across the globe, the aviation industry and most States say that aviation safety is not a matter of competition. There’s a great reliance on cooperation and sharing information to ensure that no State is left behind. A just safety culture is one where working togther is normal. It’s difficult to improve safety when people imply blame and echo a negative attitudes. To imagine this subject to be a matter for open commercial competition is flying against all international best practices.
5. A wish to not be subject to the rules made by others
No man is an island If this reasoning is applied literally then it’s impossible to participate in any international organisation. In most cases it’s preferable to participate and have a significant influence on any rules. The Convention on International Civil Aviation (known as Chicago Convention), came to be in 1944. Since we (UK) do not control ICAO, should we now withdraw? Clearly that would be a nonsense. In our own region of the world, namely Europe, it would be wise to act skilfully to maximise the influence that is available not to walk away.
I join other aviation professionals in thinking it’s extraordinary how little the UK Government is prepared to consult with industry, consider cost and benefits and explain any new arrangements that will need to be put in place in a short time. At one time there was a stubborn insistence that major changes should not be introduced without a detailed impact assessment. Now, anything goes if the Minister likes it.
For decades we (UK) have been interwoven with the EU in an intricate pattern that is complicated and often not well understood even by those who are supposed know. The twists and turns of the last 4-years have brought about a situation where those who say: absolute independence outweighs the risk of being “shackled” to the EU, now govern the UK. The idea of common interests and common solutions to common problems has gone out of the window.
Aircraft are built by experts, tested by experts and flown by qualified experts with exceptional skill and with multiple safety backups. Brexit has been driven by opportunist politicians who persistently distort evidence to support their beliefs with scant regard of the costs or harm done. Thus, the next steps in the Brexit EU-UK negotiations will be as difficult, as difficult as can be imagined. That’s what has indeed happened if reports of this week’s discussions are surveyed.
The UK will withdraw from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) after 31st December. The divorce is a hard one. I can think of a lot of Brits who dedicated enormous amount of effort to European harmonisation who will be turning in their graves.
Yes, it’s true that the road that led to the EASA had its roots in the UK. When I started work at the UK CAA, the offices of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) were based at Aviation House, London Gatwick. The benefit to aviation of having a common code was recognised in the 1980s. Signing of the “Arrangements concerning the Development, the Acceptance and the Implementation of Joint Aviation Requirements” (the “Cyprus Arrangements”) by 24 European States, took place in 1990.
In time, the weakness of the JAA system became apparent in that the common application and interpretation of aviation codes was not so common. The framework of European law was necessary to ensure that there was indeed a level playing field and a high level of aviation safety. In European law, a division of tasks between the EASA and the national aviation authorities was determined. EASA was given the power to carry out legally binding certification tasks, thus overcoming the limitations of the JAA system. The creation of EASA, led to the harmonisation of more existing rules and regulations and greater cooperation in the formation of new rules.
Reversing out of 30 years of progress is a challenging task. Yes, it can be coloured as a bold new era in flourishing rhetorical terms but practically it looks like a knee-jerk reaction. Not only that but the timing is awful. Market turbulence due to the contagious virus is severely impacting aviation. Not only that but the whole process of certificates issued by one authority being automatically accepted by another authority is being questioned because of the Boeing 737 MAX case.
Playing to the crowd with symbols of post-Brexit independence isn’t a wise move. It’s kamikaze.