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;

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