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.
 MEDITATION XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, John Donne.
 Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2018 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Union Aviation Safety Agency,