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.





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. 




Flight, Risk & Reflections 11.

Next year, whatever happens with COVID-19 there will be a focus on limiting greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.  In a way, the virus has already had a positive environmental impact. Less efficient aircraft are being pensioned off earlier than would otherwise be.

The European Union (EU) has said it will take part in the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) scheme from the start of its voluntary phase on 1 January 2021[1].

The COP26 United Nations (UN) climate conference will take place in a years’ time, between 1 and 12 November 2021 in Scotland[2]. All eyes will be on climate change

On the political climate, Downing Street dramas rival the most notable soap operas. That said, White House dramas still get top billing[3].  Some people raise the question: will the UK Government be more “collaborative and cooperative” after Dominic Cummings’ departure[4]?  Will UK Prime Minister (PM) Johnson now be exposed? I’m remined of the saying about being indispensable. If you think you are indispensable, get a glass of water and place your finger in it. Then remove the finger and observe the hole.

The Brexit trade talks enter another weekend with few signs of progress visible. Deadlines loom large in the volumes of commentary built on scant knowledge of what’s really going on. A crunch moment will come in the last week of November.

Some people say this PM is indecisive and will “cave in” on the UK’s relationship with the EU. I don’t think a radical change of direction is on the cards. The fundamental asks of a Tory Brexit haven’t changed. It’s a demand for privileges without the accompanying obligations. A Free Trade Area with a bigger neighbour with no constraints. Every time a constraint is mentioned the echo of sovereignty resounds around the room. It gets ridiculous as hard core Brexiters puff up their chests and say: you don’t show me no respect. 

Reality is reality. The EU would be unwise to let a powerful non-member have unfettered access to its market without contributing to the whole.  A problem with Dominic Cummings’ departure is that we are likely to see the Vote Leave people taking no responsibility what-so-ever for the world in 2021.  Instead when difficulties arise, they will apply their formidable campaigning skills to high power finger pointing. 

On the basis that the PM is an unscrupulous carpetbagger there will be a thin deal with the EU.  It will be presented as a great British success and the rest will be – work it out as you go along.   





Aviation & Brexit 97

The 40th G7 summit has taken place this week in Biarritz, France.  The 7 are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and the European Union (EU).  Japan and Canada have just signed major free trade agreements with the EU.  Otherwise the talk was of increasing trade tensions between the world’s biggest economies, namely: US and China.  The environment did get a look in given the wild fires in South America.

In the past, G7 leaders have recognised the “urgent need” for the aviation industry to adopt zero-carbon growth strategy.   Since there was no joint statement from this week’s meeting its difficult to tell if this continues to be an urgent concern.  The signs are not good given the empty chair when discussion with world leaders were on helping the Amazon forest and reducing carbon emissions.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting & Reduction Scheme for Aviation (CORSIA) should also play an important role in achieving global environmental goals.  At a regional level, there’s the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE)’s long-term aim to reduce air transport CO2 emissions by up to 75% by 2050.  I don’t know if UK organisations will remain part of the ACARE[1] post-Brexit.  That may happen for those international companies wishing to remain with influence in Europe.

At his first G7 summit as UK Prime Minister, Mr Johnson was consumed by the thining quicksand of Brexit.  It’s said we have now gone from “a million to one” all the way to “touch and go[2]” as to whether the UK and EU agree a Brexit deal.

I’m wondering if Mr Johnson knows what “touch and go[3]” means.  Maybe he does and the “go” will be a last minute extension to forge a final agreement on the Irish issue.

One subject the Brexiters are looking at is cutting the UK’s Air Passenger Duty (APD).  APD was introduced in 1994.  It has grown to be one of the highest taxes on flying in the world and brings in a considerable revenue to the UK Treasury.  The UK MP for the town of Crawley, that’s near London Gatwick Airport, chairs an Air Passenger Duty All Party Parliamentary Group that meets in Westminster.  They are pressing the UK Government’s finance ministry to drop the tax to boost flying after Brexit.  What that will do for national and international environmental goals isn’t known.

A week ago, a leaked UK Cabinet Office Operation #Yellowhammer document was made public.  Setting out the likely aftershocks of a No Deal Brexit, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.   It now appears that the document is from this month and not a historic document as some Ministers claimed.  In fact, a Government Minister dismissed this as “Project Fear” and “scaremongering” and yet the document is by the Government.  The report lists delays at EU ports and airports as one major risk.

The UK’s £36 billion aerospace sector is now faced with the work of preparing for a disorderly Brexit for a second time this year.  Without a doubt a No Deal Brexit remains the worst outcome for flyers and the aviation industry.  There are many UK businesses that are particularly vulnerable since they are not able to adapt.  Also, with the currency falling in value control may go to overseas buyers as they snap up good deals.

There is no mandate for a reckless No Deal Brexit but it seems increasingly likely.




Aviation & Brexit 85

The year’s longest day is almost with us.  This week, for the first time in a while, The UK’s Brexit is not a major topic at a European Union (EU) summit[1].   Now, the new European Parliament (EP) is in place there’s much discussion about the big jobs that need filling.   In the EU, a new team of European Commissioners is appointed every 5-years.  Appointing the President and the College of Commissioners is one of the issues concentrating minds in Brussels and across Europe.

Today’s European Commissioners will be leave office on 31 October 2019.   Coincidentally, that’s the date the UK is supposed to be leaving the EU.  It’s impossible to say if that will happen, not even with the remaining candidates for UK Prime Minister saying; that they still wish to leave.  The words of Donald Tusk, warning the UK to stop wasting time still echo around the room.

It’s worth noting that the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU will be replaced by the Finland’s Presidency[2] at the end of the month.  This is interesting given that Finland held parliamentary elections in April this year.   The new Government of Finland was appointed on 6 June.  So, there’s not much time to prepare an agenda for their term but I feel certain Climate Change will be high on the list of issues.

Potentially, that means a lot more talk about EU policies that promote sustainable and “smart” mobility.  In one direction, exhibited at the Paris Air Show are a horde of new electric propulsion systems for aircraft.  In another direction, policies include the introduction of an aviation tax at EU level and a carbon floor price[3].   No doubt this subject is going to be highly controversial.   The call for Net Zero emissions by 2050 is a major strategic shift for Europe.

Today, not all EU Countries have a flight tax, like the UK.  It’s a tax on a ticket.  Unfortunately, that ticket tax is not used to mitigate the environmental impacts of flying.  Aviation taxes, such as fuel taxes or ticket taxes, do have an impact on the economy.  If there’s not strong coordination and cooperation in the design of an aviation tax at EU level, then the danger of exporting jobs is real in what’s an international business.

Some studies do suggest that an aviation tax is not effective in reducing CO2 emissions.  However, there’s a great deal to be debated and investigated on this key subject.  I cannot believe the UK will not have a strong interest in the direction that the EU chooses to take on aviation taxes.  Naturally, it would be better if the UK was part of the decision-making process but leaving the EU with “No-Deal” rules that out completely.