Caught in the crossfire?

There’s no doubt the relative calm of the beginning of this century, yes, it seems extraordinary to say that has gone and a series of international events confront civil aviation’s way of working. It’s dramatic. In Europe, most countries, and their industries are shifting the way they operate.

Unfortunately, any reasonable observation shows that the situation for aviation is worse in the UK. Well, that is worse than the UK’s former partner States in the European Union (EU).

In times of difficulty partnerships, between counties and in industry help make the absolute most of economies of scale. It’s difficult to plan when constantly firefighting. It’s like that comic story about crocodiles and draining the swam. It’s difficult to think ahead when surrounded by crocodiles.

I agree with the article posted by David Learmount[1]. The massive efforts to achieve international harmonization in aviation regulation, over decades is of incalculable value. I have been lucky enough to work with exceptional people across the globe and played a small part in helping that move along.

In fact, I’d go further than David. I remember, quite a while ago, attending a lecture at the Brooklands Museum[2]. It was about the history of post-war UK Government involvement in aerospace manufacturing[3]. It wasn’t a happy story. It went a bit like a soap opera with technical excellence mixed with commercial incompetence and political interference. The overall lesson was that going it alone, piling on the world beating rhetoric and an inability to forge working alliances spells disaster. Whereas coming together, working cooperatively, and building multinational partnership pays dividends. Airbus being a prime example.

I joined the European Union Aviation Safety Organisation (EASA) as the start of its operation. It was a huge privilege. It was a rare opportunity. I mean, how many people get to set-up a new aviation authority, let alone one that works for so many States in Europe? I was proud that the UK took a leading role in making this venture happen. It was a progression that had been careful and thoughtfully developed and steered over decades.

What we built was a uniquely European solution. It isn’t a federal construction as we see in the United States (US). In Europe, National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) remain a key part of the system. The part that was new in September 2003 was to overcome a major deficiency of earlier cooperative working. That was the unfortunate habit nation States have for saying that’ll do the same thing but then not doing the same thing in practice.

David mentions the tricky subject of UK Additional Requirements for import. This is when the UK demanded a special difference between its aircraft and those of other countries. Often expensive and making it difficult to move aircraft around. I remember some UK Additional Requirements found their way into new European requirements and others were removed. That was a painful transition period. In aviation, technical requirements are often born of experience of accidents and incidents.

Today, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) works with a set of technical requirements that have been rolled over from the UK’s time as an EASA Member State (2003 – 2021). This presents opportunities to take a new path. Sounds tempting, if only you look at the subject superficially.

International technical standards never stand still. Big players invest resources influencing the direction that they take. Two of the biggest international players in respect of aerospace design and production are EASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

So, UK CAA is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Unless it can significantly influence the big players the only practical way forward is to adopt what they produce (rules, regulations, standards, guidance material). Now, the UK CAA has considerable technical experience and maintains a high reputation, but it does not sit at all the tables where the major decisions are made.

This is the concern that David mentions in his article. The unnecessary ideological exit from EASA membership, that came with Brexit places the UK in a third-party arrangement. Not good.

It’s not like the world has suddenly become dull. Frantic development efforts and huge sums of money are being pumped into greening aviation. Part of this is the new Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). Part of this is known as Urban Air Mobility (UAM). Aviation folk love acronyms. It’s almost as if we are back at the beginning of the jet-age[4]. We know how that went.

Not surprisingly, the UK wants to achieve successes in this new field of “green” aviation.

Flying is a heavily regulated industry. So, national, regional, and international rulemaking processes matter. They matter a lot. Harmonisation matters a lot. That’s having common rules and regulations to maximise the size of the marketplace while ensuring levels of safety and security are high.

The bureaucratic burden of Brexit costs. It’s not free. The UK duplicates rulemaking activities because it must independently update its laws, all the secondary legislation and guidance material that comes with aviation. When there’s a significant difference between UK, Europe, US, and the rest of the world it makes business more complex. Often that added complexity comes with no discernible benefits (economic, social, safety, security, or environmental).

The UK should become an EASA Member State once again. Why not? Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Lichtenstein are not in the EU but are EASA Member States. Across the globe countries follow EASA rules as they are known to deliver the best results.


[1] https://davidlearmount.com/2022/06/17/uk-aviation-caught-in-the-crossfire/

[2] https://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/

[3] https://www.aerosociety.com/media/8257/government-and-british-civil-aerospace-1945-64.pdf

[4] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/comets-tale-63573615/

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