Time & Life

How we experienced the 1970s depends much on age. How we remember too. No rocket science in those words. If, like me you are in your 60s then that decade spanned the ages of 10 to 20 years. Those years are, in anyone’s life, formative and leave a lasting impression. How can they not? It was the steps from dependency as a child to becoming a self-supporting adult.

If you are in your 70s or above, then that decade was fully part of your adult life. If you are in your 50s or younger, then that decade is mostly hearsay and remembered as a child’s eye view.

These simple facts shape how we interpret the myths and legends of that turbulent era in our national story. It was a time of great change ond uncertainty.

Have we reverted? Are the 2020s to be a 1970s style decade? Is it like we are living in a time shifted version of the film Back to the Future? Maybe 50-years passing is a trigger that romanticises the past.

Just as a quick brainstorm, these random 70s events come to the fore in my mind: Moon landings. Cold War. The 3-day week. Strikes. The fuel crisis. Inflation. Arguments over Europe. Massive variety of pop music, from hippies to punk. Black and White TV. Early days of personal computing. Japanese motorcycles. Haymaking, markets, cattle, and pigs. And places: Wincanton, Yeovil, and Coventry.

One aviation event, that did leave a mark, even though it happened a long way from my West Country upbrings, was the Staines air crash[1]. This remains a pivitol event in British civil aviation history. Some good did come out of this tragic fatal accident. I still have on my desk a UK CAA coster celibrating 30 years of the Mandatory Occurance Reporting (MOR) scheme 1976-2006. I wonder if that aircraft accident affected my subsequent career path. 

On the question of stepping back in time, it’s surly true that a repeat of what went before is not on the cards in this decade. Even if reflections show common ground emerging. Aspects of human behaviour do echo down the years. The German philosopher Hegel once said, “The only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” I don’t agree with him. Nevertheless, it’s as well to pay heed to this notable quote. It’s as if we collectively take our eyes off our shared history and then the customs, habits and ways of the past take over. This takes us back to treading the lazy path of the same old, same old, again and again. It doesn’t need to be like that but that’s where we are this week.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-61822837

Identity

Britan was never part of the Schengen Agreement[1]. I get that. In the days when I was commuting backwards and forwards between the UK and Cologne, Germany, I always had to show my British passport. So, although we once had freedom of movement in the European Union (EU) that document was essential to prove identity. Afterall, we do not have Identity cards (ID) in the UK. Even inside the Schengen Area[2] it’s necessary to carry personal identification. I remember being told off by a policeman for not having ID, other than a UK driver’s licence, on a high-speed train on the trip between Cologne and Brussels. He was fine about it, but it was a friendly – don’t do it again.

Generally, British people do travel overseas. Many of us travel for holidays and business, and in Europe, Spain is one of the most popular destinations.

The number of British people holding a British passport could be well over 80%. This is way ahead of Americans, for example[3]. This doesn’t take account of British passports that may have expired or been lost or destroyed. However, the remarkably large number of British people with passports does underline our love of travel.

I came back from a week’s sunshine in Grand Canary on Monday evening. It’s the second time I’ve been through the airport on that island. Entering the spacious modern airport, the first part of the process is relatively easy. Check-in and drop bags were shared with a great number of tired travellers. Even the hand baggage security check was straightforward.

It’s not until the gate number came up, and the long walk to the far end of the terminal was needed did it appear that the British experience was different. The departure gates were in a glass box wrapped around the end of the terminal. To get into the glass box it was necessary to go through passport control.

For those, like me there were electronic passport barriers. The ques there were shorter than the manual checks. The electronic passport barriers worked. However, on the other side of the glass wall was another que and a uniformed official checking passport. After that there was a desk where each passport had to be stamped. So, that’s 3 checks and an official exit stamp.

So, what’s the value of this added bureaucracy post-Brexit? I have no idea. What’s more upon boarding the aircraft for the flight home, the gate staff check passports again. So, that’s 4 inspections of passenger identity. 5 if the check-in desk procedure is included. British passports may have thick cardboard covers, and secure bindings but their strength as an international travel document has diminished since Brexit.


[1] a treaty which led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area, in which internal border checks have largely been abolished.

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/pages/glossary/schengen-agreement_en

[3] https://www.newsweek.com/record-number-americans-traveling-abroad-1377787

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/

Island chaos

Aviation is an international industry. Britain has been “No longer an Island”[1] for over 120 years. As the Wright Brothers demonstrated practical powered flight, so the importance of sea travel began a decline. Nothing in history has shaped the British more than our island status. Living on an island has moulded attitudes, character, and politics.

The illusion of absolute national autonomy and sovereignty is shattered by the interconnection and interdependencies established by flight. Aviation’s growth encouraged a lowering of impediments between nations and geographic regions. In some respects, this has been a two-edged sword. On the one hand, there’s more cooperative working across the globe than there has ever been. On the other hand, conflict crosses natural barriers with much greater ease.

Affordable rapid air travel and growing freedom of movement have been a great boom in my lifetime – the jet age. At the same time, it’s not new that nationalist politicians continue to fear the erosion of difference between the British and the nations of continental Europe, brought about by commercial aviation. Ironically, it’s now the newer digital industries that pose the greatest threat to the illusion of complete independence.

In this context the failure to tackle the critical understaffing at British airports is deep rooted. Lots of finger pointing and experts blaming each other with a catalogue of reasons misses the damage that’s being done by nationalist “conservative” politicians.

Staffing shortages, poor planning and the volume of people looking to travel have led to huge queues and many flight cancellations across UK airports.

Yes, today’s travellers have learnt to take a great deal for granted. They are no longer impressed with the ability to check their emails and watch a movie at 30,000 feet above the sea. So, when the basics go wrong, and flights are seemingly arbitrarily cancelled, queues are long and delays are frequent, the backlash is real.

A UK Minister’s[2] reluctance to restore some freedom of movement to European aviation workers to alleviate the current chaos is an example of blindness to reality. Looking at the historic context, I guess, we should not be surprised that this dogmatic UK Government is so blinkered. Any acknowledgement that the imposition of Brexit is a big factor in airport chaos is far more than their arrogant pride can take. Sadly, expect more problems.


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4254465-no-longer-an-island

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/government-transport-secretary-bbc-gatwick-covid-b2092887.html

Weights and measures

Contrary to the twisted rhetoric coming from the Conservative Government, the European Union (EU) never forced UK to abandon imperial measurements. The cheap politics played with this subject is designed to create a false narrative. Sadly, one that got an extensive outing during the Brexit referendum debates in 2016. The UK adopted metric measurements in the mid-1960s, with historic imperial measures continuing beside metric. Miles, pints, yards, and alike are part of everyday British life. There’s no public demand to change the status quo. That is, except for die-hard campaigners and jingoistic journalists. Conservative propaganda on imperial measurements is a distraction from the real and dramatic increases in the cost of living.

Consumers and industry benefit from international standardisation. It eases and enables economies of scale, price transparency, movement of goods and education and training. Major UK retailers have commented that returning to solely imperial weights and measures is complete and utter nonsense. It’s a romanisation of lost era when the map was coloured pink with the British Empire. Modern Britain needs the best set of measures available.

Calling proposals to bring back imperial units a Brexit “opportunity” prompts genuine despair amongst many people. Today, the UK pragmatically works between some remaining imperial units and the universal metric system, as used almost everywhere else in the world.

The decimal system for currency was introduced in 1971. Factors of ten are now ingrained in the education and training of everyone in the UK. I’m sure, noone sane wants to reverse decimalisation. If they, do it’s probably a tiny cohort of people who prefer Roman numerals and Latin to be used in all public documents. Living in the past, and returning to shillings and pence will just make people poorer.

Bringing back imperial measurements, as primary weights and measures would signal to the world that the UK prefers to be seen as a living museum rather than a progressive nation.

Even those politicians promoting such ridiculous proposals haven’t thought it through. Just imagine filling up a British car with petrol listed in gallons rather than litres. It took a long time to make that transition. When petrol was last listed in gallons the price was under £2 per gallon. Now, the pumps would show over £8! Whatever the logic, the public reaction to that sharp change would be vocal. Demands for an immediate cut in fuel duty would likely follow.

The Conservative Government’s consultation maybe heavily loaded but it’s important that people respond. There’s no good reason to issue a blank check for a foolish policy.

Choice on units of measurement: markings and sales – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Make your views known. Let’s not go backwards. The past should enlighten, not suffocate.

Post Note: As inflation rages on, so it has been reported that a full tank of petrol, for the average car, now costs over £100 in the UK. Media reports chose not to use imperial or metric units to describe this price hike in their headlines. The new unit is: One Tank. When comparing petrol cars with electric cars, I suppose it can usefully to use this to equate to One Charge. Our lexicon of common units continues to evolve.

How can we prevent organisational accidents?

Part 3

Make “challenging” better. Group think can be a source of innumerable problems. It doesn’t necessarily cause unethical organisational behaviours, but it sure does support them when they take hold. One method that can bust a cycle of self-deception is that of peer review. That is the sort of peer review where qualified participants can act independently, use their expertise and comment without prejudice.

I’m going to go back to the early 1990s. I have been fortunate to experience several different ways that aircraft certification and validation can be conducted. The method applied by the UK prior to the gradual harmonisation that took place to form the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) was unique.

A multidisciplinary team would visit an aircraft manufacture for a week or more. This was an intense activity of technical investigation. The output was an “orange book” and a series of findings that the aircraft manufacture must address before a national type certificate could be granted.

This process was hard work. It’s advantage was that a complete exploration of an aircraft type could be documented and that an applicant for a type certificate would be left in no doubt what needed to be done next. The first part of the activity was technical familiarisation. Each technical discipline would get a briefing on either the actual aircraft type or what was planned. This was done at the infancy of word processing. Believe it or not, I remember scissors and glue being used to cut and paste text to make-up the explanations and findings.

The purpose of these words is not to describe the use of airworthiness requirements (BCARs and the early JARs) but to describe what happened when the technical team returned home.

Having created an “orange book” with its key findings there was a need to inform colleagues of the who, what, where when and why. The authority’s senior management had to buy-in to the work of the technical team.

There were often a series of genetic findings that would deal with typical additional UK requirements. However, often more contentious was the technical findings that addressed flaws in compliance or design or unique technical features or controversial issues.

Having returned to the office members of the technical team had to justify their findings to their peers. This was done in a formal manner. It could be a daunting process. No stone was left unturned in questioning the investigation that had been done on-site at the aircraft manufacture. It was initiating to do this for the first time. Particularly when standing in front of the grandees who had been doing such work for decades. Some who had written the rules in the first place.

Although this was a tough process, it’s one that benefits a mature organisation a lot. It shakes complacency out of the system. It’s truly to be challenged.

Bridge the gap

Trying to understand the motivations of people that I don’t agree with is something I try to do. It can be fruitless and frustrating, but it does get away from social media’s ever-present algorithms. It’s not good to only listen to people with whom I wholeheartedly agree. Last night, in a moment of curiosity I switched on the TV and watched GB News. That’s until it got far too boring.

There’s one sure thing. The channel is nothing to do with News. My observation is that GB News is focused on delivering disinformation to a British target public. Not much cheer or many smiles on this channel. There’s a sullen diatribe of announcements covered in red, white, and blue. Its style is that of a pound shop American Fox News, but tone would have been at home in Soviet times.

The themes are entirely predictable. It goes like this; the European Union is an evil empire but European are weak. The enemy is at the gates. Amongst the worst are “Remainers” and the waves of “woke” minded. Forget hardships, Brexit will one day bring a utopia that others will envy.

An evangelical zeal gushes from the screen. Interviewees who say they once voted against Brexit but now see the light. There’s a strong projection of victimisation. It takes an intolerant form. How dare they say I’m wrong. How dare they say I didn’t know what I voted for in 2016. Underlying this is a collective “they” who are believed to be conspiring to overturn the will of the people.

What makes these observations chilling is that I’ve been told by my local Member of Parliament that British Prime Minister Johnson is being attacked by an unfair prejudicial media. Populists have a sharp partition in their minds. On one side is the righteous propagandists and on the other is the mainstream media, who’s a danger to their cherished projects.

Liberal Democracy loves diversity and media pluralism. Let many flowers bloom. However, these current changes in public dialogue are heading in a dangerous direction. More polarisations will lead to more disillusionment. The middle ground must reassert itself. In starting that journey, I wouldn’t start from here, but we must start from here to bridge the gap.

RE

So, Sir Keir Starmer sees “no case” for the UK re-joining the European Union (EU). Disappointing but, in a way, I’m not that surprised that the leader of the UK Labour Party should say such a thing in the North of England. The audience wishes to hear that Starmer is looking ahead, and not behind.

What was interesting in my mind was the emphasis on – no way back. However, the point is moot. It’s true, there is no way back to the way things were prior to 2016.

Going back in time is reserved for science fiction. I’ve been watching re-runs of the 1980s/90s US TV series Quantum Leap[1]. It’s incredibly enjoyable. Time travel within one’s own lifetime is a fascinating theme for fiction but it’s not happening anytime soon in the real world. Starmer is not Dr Sam Beckett on a mission. Starmer doing involuntarily leaps through spacetime is way beyond my imagination.

Saying there’s no case for re-joining isn’t earth shattering. Those two letters “re” are a millstone. There in the words: return, recreate, revive, restore, revitalise, and even remain. Always the subject is about the past. I know we are a country that loves to revel in the past but let’s dump “re[2]” when talking about future possibilities. The last thing we need is to maintain a sense of repetition. There are times to put the past behind us and create a new vision.

If Starmer becomes UK Prime Minister (PM), and that could be sooner than many think, then the timescale for evaluation of the UK’s relationship with the EU may not be too far off.

Starmer claims he wants to “make Brexit work” if he becomes PM. Now, that’s where his utterances get unwise. Above, I’ve warned about lashing public policy to the past. It’s better that Brexit is consigned to a list of historic mistakes. And besides, why say such a thing when the public’s attention is elsewhere?

When people are asked: How well or badly do you think the Government are doing at handling Britain’s exit from the EU? the answer wallows in negatve numbers. It seems strange that Labour seeks the same hopeless position as the Conservatives.

There’s a desperate need for new vision.


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096684/

[2] re- Word-forming element meaning “back, back from, back to the original place;” also “again, anew, once more,” also conveying the notion of “undoing” or “backward,” etc., c. 1200, from Old French re- and directly from Latin re- an inseparable prefix meaning “again; back; anew, against.

Regulatory Freedom

Not for the first time a Conservative Minister[1] under pressure was asked to defend Brexit and the answer they gave was: “regulatory freedom.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it isn’t often that an audience is given the opportunity to critically assess what it means. So, let’s explore what those two words mean in the context of Brexit. Naturally, it’s highly political given that the word “freedom” is used to imply that a freedom has been acquired that was once was denied.

There are two basic points that come to mind.

  • One: European Member States work together to make new laws and regulations. The UK was highly influential in shaping European policy, laws, and regulation. The UK Parliament once kept a close eye on the progress of the significant developments in Europe, and
  • Two: For all the time of the UK’s membership of the EU, most of our laws and regulations were made by the UK. Since the Member States hadn’t given the EU the competence to act of defence, crime, welfare, direct taxation, national security, and health, for example.

It is sad that Conservative Ministers continue to lie about these facts. Honestly, with 6-years under our belts since the referendum, you would think that a senior British politician would have no need to lie about such matters.

I expect Minister Jacob Rees-Moog[2] is, at this moment documenting the ways in which this myth can be perpetuated. What would be even sadder than sad is if the motivation to change British laws and regulations was just to be different for the sake of difference.

The UK Government has established a Brexit Opportunities Unit[3]. Again, with 6-years under our belts since the referendum, you would imagine that whatever opportunities there are they would be well known by now. Reading the published 4-page report on regulatory-reforms it is thin to say the least.

The face palm[4] I had when reading one line talking about reviewing restrictions on selling in pounds and ounces was a massive one. Did we really go though all that pain for something so trivial? Please don’t answer that question.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0014b4c/question-time-2022-10022022

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jacob-reesmogg-what-is-the-brexit-opportunities-unit-b2010570.html

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/brexit-opportunities-regulatory-reforms

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facepalm

Dead End

It’s been said as a joke but “Steve Barclay moves seamlessly from pretending Brexit is going well to pretending Boris is doing well” rings too true. This is a reference to Conservative MP and Minister Steve Barclay moving his desk into No. 10 Downing Street. Questions are being raised over how Johnson’s new Chief of Staff will manage more than three jobs.

Barclay will have a desk in No. 10, the Cabinet Office and his constituency. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle may come into play in that no one will be entirely certain where he is at any moment in time. It has been said that this is deckchair rearrangement of the highest art.

When a premier or Cesar[1] goes bad a blindness afflicts them completely. This is often aided by those in their immediate circle of influence. They are protected from reality by a shield wall of group think. So it’s right to ask, in the fullness of time, will Johnson be found playing the fiddle in the safety of No 10 Downing Street as the country burns (metaphorically speaking) around him. If he hangs on long enough this seems highly likely, given all the indications.

Barclay’s Brexit credentials are extemporary. He’ll certainly be using every opportunity to make the European Union a scape goat for whatever disasters are coming next. Public blaming has become the political tool of choice amongst Johnson’s shrinking cabal. A wide range of targets have been used. The Conservative party’s list is long: the media, foreigners, immigration, judges, courts, police, markets, industry, workers, civil servants, the voters, and most unsurprisingly anyone who voted “remain” in 2016 have all been under attack.

Johnson’s Government will continue to spin deeply misleading and often untrue statements to lift the spirits of its supporters. At the same time the smoke screen will anger and insult the rest of us.

A growing number of commentators agree about the inevitability of Johnson’s fall. But it’s not at all clear how he will be ousted, the timing or who is in line to take over the role of Prime Minister. Now, if this was classical Rome a violent act would be being planned at this very moment. In 21st century, Britain a public verbal evisceration and the movements of grey men in dark suites are probably on the cards.

As we pass into the next era there will be so much wreckage left by Johnson’s Government it’s going to take a mighty long time to fix it up. It’s possible to imagine a better Government. One full of hope and ambition but will they be first burdened with sorting out one hell of a mess.


[1] https://www.worldhistory.org/Nero/