Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 9

walking airport travel waiting
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

The difficulties in UK-EU negotiations can be overcome if there’s serious political engagement. That means putting forward a realistic plan.  In line with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) the UK is contributing to the EU budget as per the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020[1].  This will come to an end.  The EU Members States are engaged in determining the next EU MFF.  Many are arguing for the EU MFF to be the backbone of recovery in these exceptional circumstances. The UK will not be part of that process.  However, there’s no reason why a bespoke arrangement couldn’t be put in place to extend the current transition period.

Firstly, there need to be a negotiated agreement. Second, there needs to be ratification by all the parties. Thirdly, Government, industry and the public need to adapt to the new arrangements.  Completing that package of three in 8-months is practically impossible.

Germany is taking over the European Council presidency in July. Their focus is most likely to be recovery from the COVID-19 crisis[2].  It’s unlikely to be Brexit.  That said, both UK and EU will have the same interests in restarting and rebuilding the economy of Europe.

As if the above wasn’t difficult enough the political realities are that UK Prime Minister Johnson is tied to Brexit. And the Governing UK Conservative Party is tied to both Johnson and Brexit*.

However bizarre it may seem it would be wise to prepare for the case where the last quarter of 2020 brings about a situation where the UK is likely to have the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and the Brexit talks fail bringing about a No Deal outcome as a global recession hits.

The latest forecasts are for a significant drop in the number of international air travellers[3]. Flying is changing in ways that were not anticipated.  Coronavirus has frozen the world of aviation.

The experience for those who do travel will be less appealing.  Many airlines are asking their passengers to wear face masks.  Measure will be needed to ensure social distancing. This may mean the end to low cost air travel, as operators increase prices to fund new measures.

If there is good news it might be that plans to accelerate the retirement of some older, less fuel-efficient aircraft are being brought forward[4].  Also, in the pipeline are the new forms of air mobility that are being developed[5].

NOTE*: Further indications of inflexibility in the current poltical climate. I wrote the above words before watching this Select Committee:

Future Relationship with the EU Committee

Coverage of the committee on the UK’s future relationship with the EU with evidence from the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, from Monday 27 April.


[1] https://www.bestforbritain.org/report-extend-transition

[2] https://twitter.com/GermanyDiplo/status/1255921106524835841?s=20

[3] https://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/Billion-fewer-international-air-travellers-this-year-according-to-latest-ICAO-forecast.aspx

[4] http://news.aa.com/news/news-details/2020/A-fond-farewell-to-five-fantastic-fleets-FLT-04/

[5] https://www.internationalairportreview.com/article/115146/unmanned-aircraft-airport-authorities-column/

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 8

two pilots sitting inside plane
Photo by Rafael Cosquiere on Pexels.com

The indications are that the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations were disappointing but constructive even as they took place in challenging conditions. It’s interesting to see the diplomatic use of the word: ”constructive” displaying calculated vagueness. On the upside, the statements made by a UK Government spokesperson hints at some convergence on transport matters[1]. That can only be good.

The next round begins on 11 May. The one after that begins on 1 June. Then later in June there’s a plan for a High-Level Conference to take stock of progress in the UK-EU negotiations[2].

Most observers should be concerned about the lack of pragmatism and realism being shown by the parties.  The likelihood of a No Deal Brexit outcome is still big. One reason for this is that, for many Brexiters, libertarians and populists, Brexit is their “raison d’etre”. So, that means pushing on regardless of the social, economic and reputational costs.  In a year of pandemic, you might ask the question: who would want more damage?

More than ever I’m remined that Government is an oil tanker. Once it sets off in a direction it’s incredibly difficult to turn around.  The poor early response to COVID-19 shows how difficult reorientation of Government activities are even in the face of a clear and present danger. It seems brinkmanship by the UK is because it doesn’t know how to do differently.  The direction set is either the UK will agree with the EU a deal on the lines of the free trade agreement the EU has with Canada or it’s a No Deal Brexit.

Sadly, it’s undoubtably true that the global aviation industry will emerge from 2020 weaker and more vulnerable than it has been for decades.  Now we have announcements that British Airways (BA) plan to cut up to 12,000 jobs as its worst crisis in history unfolds[3]. Virgin Atlantic is on the road to collapse without help.

Lufthansa is set to receive rescue package worth roughly €9bn from the German Government.  Air France is to receive $7.6 billion loan package backed by the French Government[4]. So, far the UK Government is remaining tight lipped.

More than ever, European aviation, Governments and health organisations need to collaborate and co-ordinate to mitigate the disastrous effects of COVID-19.  Brexit is a diversion.

[1] https://no10media.blog.gov.uk/2020/04/24/statement-on-round-two-of-uk-eu-negotiations/

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_20_739

[3] https://news.sky.com/story/british-airways-may-cut-12000-jobs-as-virus-crisis-grounds-flights-11980136

[4] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-airfranceklm-renau/air-france-klm-wins-aid-deal-flags-likely-share-issue-idUKKCN22631F

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 7

IMG_1754 (2)Globally, the air transport industry supports 65.5 million jobs. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has looked at the potential economic Impacts of COVID19 on civil aviation[1]. Even factoring in many uncertainties, these projections are dreadful.

Predictions are that this pandemic will take 3 to 4 years to pass[2]. Some industry commentators go as far as to say that the days of low-cost flying are behind us. They may never return. The UK is one of the worst hit countries in Europe.

In the meantime, employees are being furloughed[3] in the hope that restrictions will be slowly lifted later in the year. Even though work may have dried up companies and personnel still need to maintain the validity of their certificates and licenses. ICAO has asked its Member States to be flexible in their approaches while adhering to their international obligations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional challenge for everyone. The UK Government has, in the past said that: aviation is “…at the heart of the United Kingdom’s economic success.”. These words need to count for something as difficult choices are made. There are things that can be done to improve the situation. Safeguarding aviation is important so that it’s working to help rebuild the economy after the coronavirus crisis.

If you have read my previous Blogs, you will see that I’m a strong advocate for securing an extension to the UK-EU relationship negotiating period.  It’s clear that officials in Brussels, would like the UK Government to start the discussion on an extension. Getting an extension could deliver real advantages[4] for both parties especially in the middle of the greatest public health and economic crisis since WWII.

By remote means, the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations took place this week, from 20-24 April[5]. To date the UK Government’s position remains highly political, somewhat ignoring the economic consequences of not agreeing an extension. Coronavirus is having a monumental impact on almost every aspect of life in Europe. It makes sense to step back and take the time that is needed to get Brexit right. Dogma and ideology will not serve anyone well at this time. Sadly, Brexiters in the UK Government are still fighting their corner as if it was 2016.

[1] https://www.icao.int/sustainability/Pages/Economic-Impacts-of-COVID-19.aspx

[2] https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/air-transport/2020-04-22/deltas-bastian-sees-recovery-taking-long-three-years

[3] The word ‘furlough’ generally means temporary leave of absence from work.

[4] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/there-is-nothing-to-lose-from-a-brexit-extension

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/second-round-uk-eu-future-relationship-negotiations-20-24-april

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 6

low angle photo of airplane
Photo by Sam Willis on Pexels.com

Headless and free running, the UK’s Conservative Government is locked into policies that are no longer fit for purpose. The UK Prime Minister’s speech in Greenwich, London on 3 February 2020[1] is profoundly out of step with contemporary reality. The Government’s playbook is out of date. Overtaken by events. Even if he may not have said it, former PM Harold Macmillan is remembered for saying: “Events, dear boy, events[2]

I sincerely hope certain stories are mere social media gossip and speculation. One is that the national economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic will be so dramatic that no one will notice the contribution made by a poor Brexit execution. It’s like saying that, if the house is suffering subsidence no one will notice the paint peeling off the walls. Damage is damage. That damage can always be put down to a world-wide phenomenon. Then there’s blaming China too.

Does this explain why it’s reported that the UK will not request an extension to the Brexit transition period[3]? Hard to tell. If it is then it’s short-termism of the worst kind.  However, the possibility remains that the parties could support a transition extension at a high-level conference in June 2020.

Given the coronavirus crisis, the next UK-EU negotiating rounds will take place by videoconference[4]. The technical work of the two sides includes transport but the agendas of the next sessions are yet to be published. There is an argument against Brexit transition extension, but this isn’t a particularly convincing one, as all other bilateral trade deals are being delayed. For example, talks between the UK and US have been postponed with no sight of when they might start-up.

European aviation and aerospace have been one of the first industries to be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. It will take one of the hardest hits. Support to the aviation and aerospace workforce and the industry can be a lifeline[5]. One that will be pivotal to Europe’s recovery after the pandemic.

London Heathrow (LHR) saw 80 million passengers in 2018[6]. Now, the UK’s biggest airport has been thrown back into the 1970s. They have moved to single runway operation[7]. LHR Terminals 3 and 4 are about to temporarily close. Cargo flights continue but the predictions are for lasting and significant changes to stick.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-in-greenwich-3-february-2020

[2] https://www.markpack.org.uk/13422/events-dear-boy-events-harold-macmillan/

[3] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-uk-will-not-request-an-extension-to-the-brexit-transition-period

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_20_672

[5] https://www.etf-europe.org/work-in-the-time-of-covid-19-transport-workers-stories/

[6] CAA airport statistics for numbers of air passengers at UK airports in 2018/2017.

[7] https://www.heathrow.com/customer-support/faq/coronavirus-covid-19

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 5

nature animal fog freedom
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

At the start of this pandemic, prominent UK Brexiters were saying: no need to panic.  Let people continue to mingle.  Let the virus become widespread so lots of people build-up an immunity[1].  As is so typically with Brexiters, they could not have given worse advice at a worse time.  What’s sad is that, at the beginning of the year the UK Government was going down this uncaring road.

In the UK, we have broken the ominous threshold of 10,000 deaths put down to Coronavirus.  It’s tragic that the UK Government didn’t take the warnings signs coming from China sufficiently serious.  Now, the horse has bolted, and everyone is desperately playing catch-up.  The UK’s chief scientific advisor has admitted that coronavirus testing in the UK should have been ramped up faster[2].

Even the hardest of hard-core Brexit supporters are saying, responding to COVID-19 is more important than pushing on with negotiations between UK and EU.  Let’s hope that common sense prevails. The two parties have until the 1 July 2020 to decide whether to extend the existing transition period, and on what detailed terms.  There’s even strange talk in the media that the UK wants pay-as-you-go Brexit.  It’s simply not sane to expect Governments to secure a new free trade deals while dealing with a deadly situation.

It hardly seems right to be writing about Aviation at this moment.  At the beginning of this year the biggest crisis the industry faced was that concerning the Boeing 737 MAX.  It’s been a year since Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed, taking 157 lives[3].  Naturally, that remains an important safety concern, only that it’s overshadowed by the coverage of the impact of lockdowns over the globe.

France has just extended its lockdown till 11 May 2020. It will be surprising if the UK doesn’t mirror what other European States are doing.  Each should be learning from the other in this respect.

We ought to be thankful that there’s so many transport workers, air traffic controllers, pilots, engineers and professionals who maintain aviation. Cargo and essential medical supplies are continuing to be moved safely by air.  Aviation safety must remain the top priority whatever the commercial or mission pressures.

[1] https://www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2020/02/daniel-hannan-alarmism-doom-mongering-panic-and-the-coronavirus-we-are-nowhere-near-a-1919-style-catastrophe.html

[2] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-04-13/coronavirus-testing-in-uk-not-ramped-up-as-quickly-as-it-should-have-been-government-s-chief-scientific-advisor-admits/

[3] https://twitter.com/nytimes/status/1237423006869225475?s=20

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 4

IMG_1622It looks like we have not reached the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK.  It looks like there’s no practical exit strategy for the current lock-down.  It looks like the longer this goes on the more dramatically different the future will be from what we expected only a few months ago.

We’ve daily UK Government Press Conferences for an update on actions to tackle the pandemic.  Unfortunately, too often media questioning offers little insight into really what’s happening.  The UK House of Commons is in recess. It’s scheduled to return on Tuesday, 21 April.  Maybe then the direction and plans will become a little clearer.

I see the need to reflect on the current situation.  Not to think of all the growing problems and difficulties but what, if any, could be the positive outcomes in terms of polices and actions.  A bridge to the future.  So, here goes with an unstructured list of possibilities but applying my best rose tinted glasses:

  1. The UK and EU agree a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) that are more extensive and imaginative that any that have gone before it. Building on the best of what already exists both agreements push the bounds of cooperation, collaboration and coordination[1].
  2. Restarting the aviation industry pushes it to take climate change more seriously. Retirement of aircraft make space for more efficient ones to come into service.  European States stop dragging their heels and employ new technologies for the management of air traffic.  There’s a rapid increase in environmental mitigation measures at airports.  Also, that all of these are implemented in a way that makes aviation more robust come the next crisis.
  3. Research and innovation are given a major boost. The urgent need for the rapid development of new methods and systems is enthusiastically accepted and funded.  Electric aviation is recognised as a pathway to sustainability and opportunities for new air transport air vehicles to provide new services.
  4. Greater investment feeds into communication technologies improving the interconnection of every part of Europe. The insatiable demand for growth in travel is stabilised by making the most of remote working.  Efforts on cyber security are redoubled.  Independent fact checking for social media becomes a priority activity.
  5. Extreme political polarisation is consigned to the dustbin of history. Woking together is seen as the norm.  Enlightened regulation is used to best enhance freedom, prosperity and security.  Progressive international bodies are reinforced to be able to better tackle the next global challenge, as surely there will be one.

When the day comes, and the crisis has passed and social distancing is no longer needed, then there will be a great need to reunite people.   Aviation’s role is clear.  Connecting people across the globe.

[1] Royal Aeronautical Society has produced a Brexit Briefing Note #brexit #easa http://ow.ly/Kcx750z7o5n

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 3

IMG_1651For the most obvious reasons, Coronavirus has pushed EU-UK Brexit negotiations down the political agenda.   Ironically, there’s the thought that Brexit No-Deal preparations, including stockpiling may have helped businesses prepare for the COVID19 lock-down.  Thus, predicting the future is fraught with a million and one pitfalls but never has it been more important to plan.

Aviation is largely shutdown.  Cabin crew, ground staff, engineers and office staff are concerned.  Pilots have cut a deal with their employers.  Aircraft are parked.  Airports are closing runways.  A stasis exists.  When this crisis has passed, aviation will be key to the recovery of the European economy and in reuniting Europe’s people after painful isolation. Aviation has a vital role to play.

Meanwhile, the UK has obtained EU support to help cover the costs of repatriation flights during the crisis, taking advantage of a programme that subsidises efforts to bring back stranded nationals.

Unfortunately, decisions made in the first quarter of 2020 have proven to be highly questionable.  In aviation there’s the subject of Human Factors.  Much written about, and points of view argued over as these factors can be the root of catastrophises in aviation.  There are what is described as the hazardous attitudes of pilots, controllers and engineers that can produce terrible outcomes.  A couple of them have been evident in national politicians.  They are invulnerability and the macho mindset.   It’s sad to say that these attitudes: “Only I can do it – others can’t” and “It can’t happen to me” have resulted in lots of fatalities over the years.  When flying, it’s always worth remembering that: If you are not aware of your limits, your first mistake is likely to be your last.

There’s a difference between skill and judgement.  Scientists and technicians have the skill to advise and interpret information but it’s leaders who must exercise judgement.  This unprecedented global virus challenge has resulted in some poor judgements.

Sound judgments included those to reschedule major international events like the Farnborough Air Show[1] and the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26[2].  How strange it is not to extend the EU-UK Brexit transition period.  The UK’s chief negotiator says that more talks will take place with the EU in April and May.  It would be better if all Goverement efforts were focused on defeating this virus threat.  Now, the Brexit agenda looks parochial and self-indulgent.

Slowly but surely this message is getting across.  One reason is that the forecasts for the post-Coronavirus situation in the UK shows a weak ecomomy.  Adding pain to pain in January 2021 would not only be foolish but it would be a political nail in the coffin for the Goverening Party.

Viruses can’t cooperate.  Humans can cooperate.  A European coordinated effort is of paramount importance.  People have the upper hand if only they can get over what’s holding them back.  Blame is a dead end.

[1] https://www.farnborough.com/

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/cop26