Flying, Democracy and Safety 7.

flag of united kingdom
Photo by Bernadett Varga on Pexels.com

I have no problem with a Union Jack flag adorning an aeroplane. The British Airways (BA) logo and tail flag from 1982-1997 is still missed by many air travellers.  The quarter Union Jack clearly stated what it represented and said it classically, superbly and strongly[1]. This week we saw the tail flag on the UK Prime Minister’s aeroplane, and it looks wrong.  Apparently, it’s explained that the front of the aeroplane is the “flagpole”[2].  Thus, the only time the tail Union Jack flag will be correctly orientated is when the aeroplane is diving towards the ground.  It seems to me that this image doesn’t send a particularly good “national branding” message to anyone who sees it.

Now, any mention of British Airways (BA) on social media is likely to be accompanies by a derogatory comment. BA has put its staff at risk of redundancy. It’s forcing through pay cuts on staff, even though they’re a financially sound company taking advantage of the UK Government’s COVID-19 furlough scheme. On the morning of Wednesday 24 June, a UK House of Commons Transport Committee meeting took place with the star witness being the Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State, Department for Transport. When questioned about the situation it seemed the UK Government is taking the position of a passive observer.

An open UK Parliamentary petition is doing the rounds. It’s calling for the UK Government to support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak. In total, COVID-19 could cost the UK aviation industry up to £20.1 billion in 2020[3]. So far, the UK Government has not offered sector specific help as other European Governments have done so.

Virgin Atlantic Airways is working on a do-it-yourself plan to keep flying. They have given up on sector specific UK Government support for aviation.

It looks as if the UK Government is to rip up its Coronavirus quarantine rules for some returning travellers in move that will at least help. Were it not for the #Brexit transition period, until 31 December, the UK might have been on the EU’s banned Countries list given its national COVID-19 case numbers.

Now let’s look at what remains of Brexit. It certainly is interesting to read that a senior Government Minister is concerned that few UK businesses have prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU single market and customs union[4].  It seems uncharitable to point out that they may be busy addressing other issues. It maybe because people aren’t embracing Brexit with the same enthusiasm as the die-hard supporters in the UK Government. More likely that it’s impossible to drain a swamp when you are up to your eyes in crocodiles. Big COVID-19 crocodiles.

The EU will impose customs controls and checks on goods from the UK from the start of 2021[5].  This is going to be painful for design and manufacturing in the aerospace world. The UK’s growth has already slowed after the 2016 referendum relative to other countries.  Brexit uncertainty has reduced capital investment resulting in lower productivity and output. And all of this was reported before the COVID-19 pandemic[6].

The tragic situation is that, however bad the outcome gets as the year ends, the pandemic will make it exceedingly difficult to estimate the true impact of Brexit on the economy as we go forward. Call me cynical but there’s likely to be UK Conservative Ministers and MPs betting on that situation.

[1] https://www.logodesignlove.com/british-airways-logo-evolution

[2] https://videos.metro.co.uk/video/met/2020/06/25/443726506662150015/640x360_MP4_443726506662150015.mp4

[3] https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/coronavirus-impact-aviation-transport-report/

[4] https://www.cityam.com/michael-gove-concerned-at-how-few-uk-businesses-have-made-brexit-preparations/

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-18/eu-says-it-won-t-ease-customs-controls-on-u-k-after-brexit

[6] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/working-paper/2019/the-impact-of-brexit-on-uk-firms

Flying, Democracy and Safety 6.

space shuttle launch during nighttime
Photo by Edvin Richardson on Pexels.com

One of the News stories of the week was that of UK Prime Minster (PM) Johnson spending £900,000 to paint a RAF transport aircraft with Union flag colours. Red, white and blue. I imagine that money will be spent in the UK. It’s good to see that Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge has reduced the Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) emissions of its huge paint shop[1].

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and decline of air traffic on European aviation has got worse in recent weeks[2].  Rebuilding it will require new measures to be put in place. Now, the aviation industry is nervous that these will be imposed in an uncoordinated way. National quarantines are an example of such measures as they are an impediment to recovery especially when they are introduced on political grounds. There’s quite a lot of that going on at the moment.

UK PM Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, were in communication last Monday[3]. There was much talk of giving the on-going UK-EU negotiations new momentum. We are told, people are searching for agreeable compromises. The real possibility of a collapse in the talks remains, with some speculation that this would be exploited to distract from criticism over the UK Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a taster of what the ratification of any new agreement might involve, a report has been published by the European Parliament (EP)[4] with recommendations on the negotiations for a new partnership with the UK.  This report does have a few mentions of civil aviation, notably:

  1. Considers that the envisaged partnership should include an ambitious and comprehensive chapter on air transport which ensures the EU’s strategic interests, and contains appropriate provisions, on market access, investment and operational and commercial flexibility (e.g. code sharing) in respect of balanced rights and obligations, and should include close cooperation in aviation safety and air traffic management;
  2. Stresses that any possible granting of some elements of the so-called ‘fifth freedom’ (freedom of the air) should be limited in scope and needs to include balanced and corresponding obligations in the interests of the EU.

Even though this has been rejected by UK Government Ministers, the EP continues to support the participation of the UK as a “third country” observer with no decision-making role in the EU’s Agencies, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Also, the EP still wishes to see UK’s continued participation in the Single European Sky (SES) and technology initiatives like: Clean Sky I and II, Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), Galileo, Copernicus and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS).

Today, the indications are that the UK Government has rejected such technical participation. However, it does seem that one or two plans are being changed as we go. It’s reported that the UK is scaling back plans for rival to Galileo satellite system[5]. Ambition is being shaped by practicalities.

Whatever is the case, it’s certain European civil aviation will use both Galileo and EGNOS in advanced forms of navigation and surveillance. The future is being made, tested, and put into service as we speak.

[1] https://marshalladg.com/insights-news/marshalls-clean-air-unit-paints-an-even-cleaner-picture

[2] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/airlines-lessors/pandemic-impact-european-aviation-worsening-iata-says

[3] https://www.cer.eu/insights/eu-uk-negotiations-no-need-panic-yet

[4] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2020-0117_EN.html

[5] https://www.ft.com/content/50c3b6dc-2d2f-4bb4-aa9b-b24493315140

Flying, Democracy and Safety 5.

jet cloud landing aircraft
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

4-years ago on Magna Carta Day in the small Surrey town of Egham, I was campaigning to stay in the European Union (EU).  On 11 June 2016, when referring to the UK referendum, I said: “I’d like to estimate that the overall experience indicated a better than 50/50 outcome is on the cards.” Meaning that remaining in the EU was a likely outcome of the UK referendum but only by a small margin of votes. As we know it went the other way by a small margin of votes.

In the whole of history, 4-years isn’t much, a blink of an eye, but in that time the UK’s political, social and economic landscape has changed by quite a lot.  I’d argue that it has changed for the worse and that huge opportunities have been thrown away because of dogma, groupthink and a blindness to the reality.  If we’ve learnt anything in those years, it’s that when a UK politician says something is certain it’s likely to be far from certain.

Despite all the rocky road and ups and downs of 4-years, no one was adequately prepared for a transformation that nature threw at us. The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in modern times.

UK economic growth fell by over 20% in April, the largest fall since monthly records began. Aviation has been hit hard. It’s said that at least 70,000 jobs are on the line in the UK aviation industry[1]. There are pleas for the UK Government to act to protect jobs and support the long-term viability of the sector. Many other Countries have stepped in to support their industries.

Although a slight recovery of air traffic is underway[2], we are heading into the most painful time. As the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme[3], or furlough scheme closes to new entrants, so industry layoffs are likely to increase. Businesses are reorganising to stay alive during an extended period of low demand for air travel. It’s going to be grim for at least the next year.

I’m optimistic for the long-term future of air travel. I always find it surprising that only about 5% of the world’s population have ever stepped foot on an aircraft, even now. I think, wanderlust is set in our core. Just as the low-cost operators made it possible for today’s young people to explore more than previous generations, so I don’t think they will wish to give that up. Aviation shrunk the globe and it will continue to do so.

But what of UK politics? The transition agreed as part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, ends on 31 December this year. The agenda for the second meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has been published[4]. This key meeting takes place on Friday 12 June.

The UK is saying that it will not ask for an extension to the current transition period. This flies in the face of what business and industry wants. This seems to be illogical given the combination of the circumstances of COVID-19 and an abrupt termination of the WA.

I believe most of the arguments against extending the transition period are either tribal Party political or bogus or both. The reality is that more time is needed. The reality is that ratification of any new deal will need time. The reality is that brinkmanship doesn’t deliver good results. The OECD[5] is saying of the UK: “The failure to conclude a trade deal with the European Union by the end of 2020 or put in place alternative arrangements would have a strongly negative effect on trade and jobs.”

That is not a state of affairs to be welcomed.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/10/airline-job-losses-could-be-on-scale-of-1980s-mining-industry-report-warns

[2] https://twitter.com/eurocontrolDG/status/1271135184562380800?s=20

[3] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/brexit_files/info_site/provisional-agenda-for-the-second-meeting-of-the-joint-committee-12-06-2020.pdf

[5] https://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/

Flying, Democracy and Safety 4.

IMG_1879It’s possible that a gradual recovery in air traffic is slowly starting to take shape across the globe[1]. Individual Countries, businesses and industries are in dire situation and long-term plans are being dramatically changed. However, if the whole air transport sector is considered, there’s reason to think that a recovery from the shock of COVID-19 is in its infancy[2].

This week, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council adopted a report and recommendations designed to restart international air transport and aligning its recovery[3]. It’s good to see international efforts to work together are baring some fruit.

This week, when reading comments on social media its almost as if a section of the population has disconnected from the facts. The facts are that Brexit has been delivered. It happened on 31 January 2020.  Ever since that date people, governments and businesses have been consumed with the difficulties of responding to COVID-19.  Nevertheless, as of the end of this year the UK is a “Third Country” in respect of the European Union (EU).

To everyone’s benefit, a period of transition was established to enable a new relationship to be defined between the UK and EU. Now, the original period defined for the transition is inadequate given the unforeseen change in circumstance that has occurred. In a purely objective, rational, and reasonable world there’s not much to argue against the need to extend the transition period to do a good job of negotiation between former partners. Sadly, what’s rational and reasonable and the political climate of the times are directly opposed to each other.

UK Government Ministers pretend that there’s ample time available to reach a new UK-EU agreement. However, listening to Conservative MPs in the House of Commons its clear they are still fighting the battles of 1993[4]. Atypical Eurosceptic speeches are followed by a degree of paranoia that’s difficult to comprehend given that the UK has left the EU. The UK Government says it will not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020 and this is enshrined in UK law.

So, what happens in such situations? This week, there’s been further disappointments as both UK and EU negotiators indicate little progress has been achieved.

It’s clear the EU won’t compromise on the principle that a Country will not enjoy the benefits of belonging to the EU once it’s no longer a member.

It’s clear the UK continues to cite independence and sovereignty as if these are inviolate. As if the UK had never been an EU Member State for 40-years.

What happens in such situations? If divorces are anything to go by then a protracted period of bitterness and recrimination with little or no compromise on either side. Years of unproductive waste that only water under the bridge can cure.

Yet, all we hear is Panglossian optimism about everything coming together in October.

A No Deal outcome may seem counterintuitive to me, but it’s not for those who have desired such an outcome for the UK-EU talks from the start. There’s a certain political thinking that disruption per-se is good. That if the UK is to leap forward to the “industries of future” it’s exactly what is needed, whatever the overall costs.  This is a brutal philosophy, but some people genuinely believe that the UK can deregulate and become super-competitive overnight.

I suspect, to the benefit of the UK, leverage might have been possible if COVID-19 had not occurred. Now, the problem is that the UK has performed badly in response to the virus. At the same time, the EU’s focus has moved to its economic recovery during the next budgetary period. One looks to its shoes the other to the skies.

Negotiating a new partnership between the UK and EU was never going to be easy. Where we are at this moment, Panglossian optimism seems entirely misplaced.

[1] https://twitter.com/AireonLLC/status/1265271791074906118?s=20

[2] https://twitter.com/OAG_Aviation/status/1268123362041217026?s=20

[3] https://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/ICAO-Council-adopts-new-COVID.aspx

[4] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmagenda/ob200604.htm#_idTextAnchor005