Flight, Risk & Reflections 15.

A large full moon graced the December sky early this morning. The local park was a picture of frosty ground, joggers and dog walkers, magpies and one or two wrens hopping around as the sun rose.  I looked up and slithers of cloud gave a reddish hew to the eastern sky. I remembered the farmer’s rhyme: Red in the morning, shepherds warning. Also, clear to me was the absence of aircraft streaking across the cold sky.  I’m located only a few miles north of London Gatwick airport.  Last December the same scene would have included aircraft contrails going left and right as morning flights arrived and departed London. 2020 is a year like no other.  In this pandemic year worldwide, deaths now approach 1.8 million. 

The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020.  A Withdrawal Agreement that the UK Government agreed with the EU established a transition period that comes to an end in a couple of days.  I think many people are mighty relieved that the UK and EU reached an agreement in principle on Thursday 24 December 2020. This is about as last minute as it was possible to be in the long negotiations. 

All being well, a new agreement between the EU and UK should start from New Year’s Day, 1 January 2021.  This EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement includes obligations on both parties for air transport and aviation safety. Again, many people will be mighty relieved that these topics are addressed.  In all I’ve written in this blog there’s been much speculation about the road ahead. Now, for the first time in four and a half years we have some indication of what comes next.  Like any long story, it’s not all good and its not all bad. 

There are implications for all aspects of European aviation.  In air transport, UK aircraft operators will not have the freedoms of the past. They may need to restructure to be able to offer comprehensive services to the destinations currently flown. Low-cost operator Ryanair is implementing voting restrictions on company shares owned by non-EU nationals from New Year.

It’s good to see the emphasis on cooperation[1] on aviation safety.  New dedicated committees will look at how to work together in the future.  I hope they work at a technical level and renew cooperation rather than further politicising inter-institutional relationships.  Regulatory duplication and barriers need to be avoided.  Now, practical processes and procedures must make good on the promise of close cooperation. The need to ensure implementation of aviation safety rules and regulations has not diminished.

It’s interesting to note that each party to the agreement may request consultations at any time concerning the safety standards maintained and administered by the other party in areas relating to aeronautical facilities, flight crew, aircraft and the operation of aircraft.  This suggests conditions for dealing with the immediate outcome of aircraft accidents and serious incidents but it’s not explicit.  As I found in the early days of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), from 2004 a lot depends on how the relevant legal texts are interpreted. One small sentence can mean much if the parties choose to make it so.  A deal maybe agreed but this is not done. This is the start of work that can build a successful aviation system.  With good will on both sides this can happen, but it will take a decade of effort. 


[1]The Trade and Cooperation Agreement establishes the following Specialised Committees:……

(b) The Specialised Committee on Air Transport;

(c) The Specialised Committee on Aviation Safety;

Flight, Risk & Reflections 14.

The end of the transitional period of the process of UK withdrawal from the European Union (EU) is just days away. I believe most people are looking for some light at the end of the tunnel. A tunnel that we have been in since mid-2016. Now, that light looks dim. Dim as a dull cold winter’s day.     

The EU has triggered Brexit No-Deal contingency plans[1].  These plans are to ensure basic services between the UK and the EU for 6 months in 2021. Then it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

Flying is down to levels last seen in the 1970s. This maybe joy for those who protest at aviation’s environmental footprint. But, given that aviation will be vital to power the world out of the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 virus, this is not good news. 

Said it before but I’ll say it again, the triple blow of a Brexit No-Deal and COVID-19 and urgent need for action on Climate Change are going to mean hair shirts years ahead. There’s a great deal of bluff from politicians but the bills keep mounting up. We cannot ignore the oncoming trains. 

Worldwide COVID-19 deaths have now topped 1.6 million[2]

In this crisis, there’s no doubt that the UK has a superbly capable science community. Within that specialist community there are world renowned experts[3]. They work in a global context.  So, the persistent echo of nationalism in politicians COVID-19 response is saddening.  Recently politicians have spoken as if the task of public safety regulation was a competition.  This is sheer folly. It undermines trust.  Ensuring either vaccines or transport systems are safe is NOT a matter for national competition.  We all have vulnerabilities and safety is only assured when we are all safe. 

The triple whammy means the UK aerospace industry is under pressure and needs strategic support from the UK Government to sustain its high value jobs. So far, a deaf ear is all they offer businesses that create prosperity across the country. 

Also, on the horizon is that the UK will be under pressure to scrap European tariffs applied to Boeing imports imposed as a result of the international dispute between Boeing and AIRBUS. The subsidy dispute was between the EU and US and so lawyers are saying the UK should step aside. Sadly, this is the sort of situation that will make Europeans seriously question future aerospace investments in the UK. 


[1] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/12/16/council-endorses-transport-contingency-measures-in-case-of-no-deal-brexit/#

[2] https://www.statnews.com/feature/coronavirus/covid-19-tracker/?utm_campaign=cv_landing

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000qdzd/panorama-the-race-for-a-vaccine

Flight, Risk & Reflections 13.

Last night, chatting about presentations and simple ways of making them better, I was reminded of: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.  It’s ancient advice about how to persuade an audience of a point of view. The importance is to see a place for all three in a presentation. 

Looking at the day’s news, I see we are still on the brink of a deal. Negotiations drag on and on. Both EU and UK give the impression that they are stretching their negotiating mandates to try to come up with a good solution but time is ticking.

Outside of the negotiating room there remains the task of convincing different audiences that a deal is a good one. So, what of the classical three. In the UK, the media and politicians revel in Pathos. It’s almost as if the other two are consigned to be back seat drivers. For Ethos and Logos, objectivity is a must. Being honest means being factual. Arguing rationally means applying the facts.

Unfortunately, there are only a handful of places to go for that objectivity in the British media. So, it does make a difference to read the foreign media.  For some common sense, I recommend the thoughts of Julian King[1], the UK’s last European commissioner.  I agree that everybody stands to lose out with No-Deal.

This week we carry on with a multitude of unknowns. Only one thing is for sure. Life after 31st December will be different[2]

I do wish press articles would not say: “Otherwise, the U.K would have to strike individual agreements with EU countries to bypass these concerns, ……” Striking individual agreements with non-EU countries is what is happening. Striking individual agreements with EU countries will not happen. The reason for this is that for the major areas of interest the EU has competence[3].

It’s worth noting that the harmonisation of civil aviation requirements and procedures started a long time before the formation of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/brexit-the-uk-and-eu-both-need-to-put-aside-emotion-and-cut-a-deal-1.4425580

[2] https://www.politico.eu/article/5-things-to-know-about-post-brexit-aviation-airlines-eu-transition-cargo-travel-passengers/

[3] https://europa.eu/european-union/topics/transport_en