Flying, Democracy and Safety 3.

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Recent events have shown that there isn’t much point in pretending that there’s going to be a win-win outcome for the on-going UK-EU negotiations. The UK Government’s perception of independence overrides all other considerations, no matter how costly this view. I believe, independence shouldn’t mean isolation. Two independent parties should be able to work together, share common goals and depend on each other. Sadly, the kind of independence the UK Prime Minister (Conservatives Party Leader) has in mind is a form of superior isolation from former allies and partners.  His success last December has nailed his flag to the colours of a rump that controls his political Party.

In my experience, for something major to happen at a Governmental level there must be a political will in favour of that thing. If people try hard enough, there’s always reasons that can be found not to do something or to rubbish alternatives. Even if it means rejecting something beneficial and driving down a dead end.

In the 1990s, I saw this phenomenon in local Government. The creativity of responding, deployed when those in power fundamentally don’t want to do something, can be energetic and surprising. The effort used can exceeds the effort of going through with even a modest measure. It can be blinkered NIMBYism, it can be protecting vested interests or it can be resisting climate change action. Certainly, it’s not an objective or rational discussion that takes place in these cases.

As indicators of the current collective will of the UK Government, I cite the following:

  • The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been setting the rules for flying during the COVID-19 pandemic[1]. Continuing to fly in Europe will mean adherence to measures established by the EU and its Agency.  Yet, there’s no UK Governmental desire to have a membership of that organisation. Thus, exerting influence will be no better than that available to any “third-country”.
  • Late in the COVID-19 pandemic, introducing a 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving in the UK will significantly damage both UK aviation and UK tourism. Other options could have been deployed. Introducing a track and trace procedure for arrivals would have been more proportionate to the risks. Especially for arrivals from Countries that have an R number lower than that of the UK.
  • Unmovable on one playbook, to one man and to one view of the world. There is growing national exceptionalism as the arguments of those who compare UK’s recent performance with other Countries are ignored. Informed comment and technical alternatives are sidelined as being Party poltical.
  • Populists have been expressing the view that making an extension to the UK-EU talks impossible will concentrate the minds of those on mainland Europe. A conditional extension to the transition period is unlikely to be considered. It’s all or nothing. Thus, some people believe that this will focus minds for an autumn showdown. Even given that this strategy has a poor track record.

The next round of Brexit talks begins on Monday, 1 June. This is the final round of UK-EU negotiations before the Summer. From July to December 2020, Germany’s will have the presidency in the Council of the European Union (EU). It’s reported that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis will be the priority of the German presidency[2].  Recovery is the number one. Brexit is not at the top of the list.

[1] https://www.easa.europa.eu/aviation-industry-charter-covid-19

[2] https://www.bmvi.de/EN/The-Ministry/Germany-EU-Council-Presidency/germany-eu-council-presidency.html

Flying, Democracy and Safety 2.

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In a Century, our response to dangerous viruses has changed dramatically.  The context in which a pandemic takes place has changed dramatically too. World population in 1918 was an estimated 1.8 billion[1]. Rather different from the current global population of about 7.5 billion.

Flying was in its infancy in 1918. In the inter-war period, the technology of flying was advancing rapidly. I’ve been listening to #TwentyDays, an online celebration of the 90th anniversary of aviator Amy Johnson’s flight from England to Australia[2]. She became the first solo woman to fly from Croydon to Darwin.  It’s a fascinating travelogue that reminds us that the world pre-WWII was a completely different place.

It was expected that 2020 would set a record for the number of scheduled airline passengers to about 4.7 billion. Now, that is certainly impossible. Most of the world’s civil aircarft are parked. Again, the world is in flux.

The number of CORVID-19 deaths worldwide is 335,993 according to Johns Hopkins University. Yes, this is a long way from the global shock of the largest pandemic in history (1918-20) but it is changing everything.

Daily the news is saddening for those who have made their lives in aviation. Jobs are going in every sector but most particularly manufacturing and aircraft operations. UK company Rolls-Royce[3] plans to cut around 9,000 jobs in response to a drop off in demand. Aviation is completely consumed with the consequence of the CORVID-19 pandemic. British Airways’ owner, IAG, has made a decision to make 12,000 staff redundant.

The future of air travel has transformed in a matter of a few months. For anyone travelling in these challenging times the rules applicable are changing almost daily. In Europe, for most aviation organisations preparations for the end of the transition phase for the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) have been put on the back burner.

Last Monday, the penultimate round of negotiations between the UK and the EU took place[4]. Officials and commentators on both sides are becoming increasingly doubtful a deal can be done in the time allotted[5]. Not only that but a strange exchange of letters has taken place between the two negotiating parties[6]. Both parties are defending their interests, so it seems strange that such negative grandstanding is taking place.

If looking for some good news, from the point of view of transparency, the “DRAFT WORKING TEXT FOR AN AGREEMENT ON CIVIL AVIATION SAFETY BETWEEN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE EUROPEAN UNION” are now made public. The UK’s draft negotiating document makes interesting reading.

 

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/spanish-flu-largest-influenza-pandemic-in-history

[2] http://amyjohnsonartstrust.co.uk/

[3] @RollsRoyce

[4] https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu/britain-eu-start-penultimate-round-of-talks-before-key-deadline-idUKKBN22N0VF

[5] https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-05-07/europe-aviation-still-facing-uncertainty-brexit-talks-stall

[6]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/886168/Letter_to_Michel_Barnier_19.05.20.pdf

Flying, Democracy and Safety 1.

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National lockdowns are being effective in controlling COVID-19 outbreaks. The tricky part is that the fear that has been induced in people to encourage compliance with the lockdowns means that any relaxation of rules is going to be difficult. That’s only right and proper, given that the management of risk is a delicate balancing act. Not only that but fatality totals have risen to truly staggering levels.

What is evident is that the way the international air transport industry has been working, its systems, procedures and business models are going to need a radical shakeup. Coronavirus is a game changer. According to @IATA the impact of COVID-19 crisis on long-haul travel is to be “much more severe and of a longer duration” than what is expected in domestic markets.

Aviation safety work is important per se, but it has the added value of maintaining public confidence in air transport. In the past, a minority had a fear of flying.  For as long as we have COVID-19, the situation is different. Now, it’s likely that many more people will be finding alternatives or putting off flying either for business or pleasure.

Governments have introduced measures and restrictions at borders. If these stay in place summer holidays are going to be off this year.

The European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) continue to try to create a new partnership. The agenda for this week’s round of EU-UK negotiations have been published[1].  It’s good to see that Aviation Safety gets a couple of hours on Wednesday, 13 May 2020.  No doubt a progress report will be forthcoming by the end of the week.

There’s still a possibility that a limited deal could be struck by October 2020.  However, it continues to look unlikely that the UK will seek an extension to talks despite the risks. With confirmation that the UK is in an economic recession the hard-line on the Brexit negotiation time limit looks suicidal. The combination of events is extremely bad.

The great Brexit divide in British politics is alive and kicking. It’s deepening as people harden their views under the weight of the Coronavirus crisis. The political slogan of 2016: “Take back control” now sounds hollow and meaninglessness.

If the EU-UK negotiations fail and a No-Deal Brexit outcome results the harm it will do to ourselves and to our allies, friends and neighbours will be unforgivable in normal times.  It will be unbelievably irresponsible in the middle of an economic and health crisis.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/brexit_files/info_site/hl-agenda-round-3.pdf

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 10

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Now, the topic for writers is what will the new normal look like for civil aviation, and everything else for that matter. That’s the new normal post-COVID-19. Inevitably there’s a great deal of expert speculation wrapped-up in such writings. Without a tried and tested way out of the different national lockdowns there’s a fair degree of guess work going on. That said, public support for the lockdowns remains high, but beneath this, people are having quite different lockdown experiences.

The first recognition of Europe Day was by the Council of Europe in 1964. On Tuesday, the Council of Europe[1] turned 71-years-old. Its 47 Member States are dedicated to the protection of Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law.  Its work is more relevant now than it has ever been. Especially, when on Friday, we recognise the sacrifices that were made during the World Wars. Many people will be marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day[2] in their homes as the coronavirus outbreak prohibits public gatherings.  History is clear, supporting a strong relationship between the UK and Continental Europe is essential for all our futures.

Also, this week trade talks between the UK and US have kicked-off. This maybe a big mistake having not completed negotiations with the European Union (EU) and during the COVID-19 crisis. Defeating the pandemic should be the UK Government’s sole focus for months to come. At the moment, there’s a lack of seriousness coming from Westminster.

Initially, the UK Government downplayed the risks of COVID-19 but now the world has succumbed to the reality of the pandemic. Trying to fix international relationships covering most of the UK’s trade and travel at a time of great turmoil is unwise. The unprecedented economic and social challenges posed by COVID-19 means we could lock ourselves into arrangement that subsequently turn out to be detrimental but fixed.

In the UK, the Pilots’ Union is saying that civil aviation is in a “death spiral”[3]. This language may seem emotive but there’s good reason for it given the downsizing that aircraft operators are planning. Job losses are certain. A smaller industry will result.

Last year, a part of the Article 50 EU withdrawal process was the possibility of a No-Deal Brexit which in the end both parties avoided. That was a temporary respite. This year, there’s another deadline in prospect; the end 31 December 2020. Last time the brinkmanship practiced produced an agreement but there was no global downturn in progress.  This time is a billion times different. Brinkmanship is not the right formula in 2020.  It’s plain foolish and reckless.

[1] https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal

[2] Victory in Europe Day on 8 May.

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/coronavirus-uk-flights-airlines-aviation-pilots-union-a9498766.html