Flying, Democracy and Safety 1.

woman in white face mask
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National lockdowns are being effective in controlling COVID-19 outbreaks. The tricky part is that the fear that has been induced in people to encourage compliance with the lockdowns means that any relaxation of rules is going to be difficult. That’s only right and proper, given that the management of risk is a delicate balancing act. Not only that but fatality totals have risen to truly staggering levels.

What is evident is that the way the international air transport industry has been working, its systems, procedures and business models are going to need a radical shakeup. Coronavirus is a game changer. According to @IATA the impact of COVID-19 crisis on long-haul travel is to be “much more severe and of a longer duration” than what is expected in domestic markets.

Aviation safety work is important per se, but it has the added value of maintaining public confidence in air transport. In the past, a minority had a fear of flying.  For as long as we have COVID-19, the situation is different. Now, it’s likely that many more people will be finding alternatives or putting off flying either for business or pleasure.

Governments have introduced measures and restrictions at borders. If these stay in place summer holidays are going to be off this year.

The European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) continue to try to create a new partnership. The agenda for this week’s round of EU-UK negotiations have been published[1].  It’s good to see that Aviation Safety gets a couple of hours on Wednesday, 13 May 2020.  No doubt a progress report will be forthcoming by the end of the week.

There’s still a possibility that a limited deal could be struck by October 2020.  However, it continues to look unlikely that the UK will seek an extension to talks despite the risks. With confirmation that the UK is in an economic recession the hard-line on the Brexit negotiation time limit looks suicidal. The combination of events is extremely bad.

The great Brexit divide in British politics is alive and kicking. It’s deepening as people harden their views under the weight of the Coronavirus crisis. The political slogan of 2016: “Take back control” now sounds hollow and meaninglessness.

If the EU-UK negotiations fail and a No-Deal Brexit outcome results the harm it will do to ourselves and to our allies, friends and neighbours will be unforgivable in normal times.  It will be unbelievably irresponsible in the middle of an economic and health crisis.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/brexit_files/info_site/hl-agenda-round-3.pdf

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 9

walking airport travel waiting
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The difficulties in UK-EU negotiations can be overcome if there’s serious political engagement. That means putting forward a realistic plan.  In line with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) the UK is contributing to the EU budget as per the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020[1].  This will come to an end.  The EU Members States are engaged in determining the next EU MFF.  Many are arguing for the EU MFF to be the backbone of recovery in these exceptional circumstances. The UK will not be part of that process.  However, there’s no reason why a bespoke arrangement couldn’t be put in place to extend the current transition period.

Firstly, there need to be a negotiated agreement. Second, there needs to be ratification by all the parties. Thirdly, Government, industry and the public need to adapt to the new arrangements.  Completing that package of three in 8-months is practically impossible.

Germany is taking over the European Council presidency in July. Their focus is most likely to be recovery from the COVID-19 crisis[2].  It’s unlikely to be Brexit.  That said, both UK and EU will have the same interests in restarting and rebuilding the economy of Europe.

As if the above wasn’t difficult enough the political realities are that UK Prime Minister Johnson is tied to Brexit. And the Governing UK Conservative Party is tied to both Johnson and Brexit*.

However bizarre it may seem it would be wise to prepare for the case where the last quarter of 2020 brings about a situation where the UK is likely to have the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and the Brexit talks fail bringing about a No Deal outcome as a global recession hits.

The latest forecasts are for a significant drop in the number of international air travellers[3]. Flying is changing in ways that were not anticipated.  Coronavirus has frozen the world of aviation.

The experience for those who do travel will be less appealing.  Many airlines are asking their passengers to wear face masks.  Measure will be needed to ensure social distancing. This may mean the end to low cost air travel, as operators increase prices to fund new measures.

If there is good news it might be that plans to accelerate the retirement of some older, less fuel-efficient aircraft are being brought forward[4].  Also, in the pipeline are the new forms of air mobility that are being developed[5].

NOTE*: Further indications of inflexibility in the current poltical climate. I wrote the above words before watching this Select Committee:

Future Relationship with the EU Committee

Coverage of the committee on the UK’s future relationship with the EU with evidence from the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, from Monday 27 April.

 

[1] https://www.bestforbritain.org/report-extend-transition

[2] https://twitter.com/GermanyDiplo/status/1255921106524835841?s=20

[3] https://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/Billion-fewer-international-air-travellers-this-year-according-to-latest-ICAO-forecast.aspx

[4] http://news.aa.com/news/news-details/2020/A-fond-farewell-to-five-fantastic-fleets-FLT-04/

[5] https://www.internationalairportreview.com/article/115146/unmanned-aircraft-airport-authorities-column/

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 7

IMG_1754 (2)Globally, the air transport industry supports 65.5 million jobs. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has looked at the potential economic Impacts of COVID19 on civil aviation[1]. Even factoring in many uncertainties, these projections are dreadful.

Predictions are that this pandemic will take 3 to 4 years to pass[2]. Some industry commentators go as far as to say that the days of low-cost flying are behind us. They may never return. The UK is one of the worst hit countries in Europe.

In the meantime, employees are being furloughed[3] in the hope that restrictions will be slowly lifted later in the year. Even though work may have dried up companies and personnel still need to maintain the validity of their certificates and licenses. ICAO has asked its Member States to be flexible in their approaches while adhering to their international obligations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional challenge for everyone. The UK Government has, in the past said that: aviation is “…at the heart of the United Kingdom’s economic success.”. These words need to count for something as difficult choices are made. There are things that can be done to improve the situation. Safeguarding aviation is important so that it’s working to help rebuild the economy after the coronavirus crisis.

If you have read my previous Blogs, you will see that I’m a strong advocate for securing an extension to the UK-EU relationship negotiating period.  It’s clear that officials in Brussels, would like the UK Government to start the discussion on an extension. Getting an extension could deliver real advantages[4] for both parties especially in the middle of the greatest public health and economic crisis since WWII.

By remote means, the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations took place this week, from 20-24 April[5]. To date the UK Government’s position remains highly political, somewhat ignoring the economic consequences of not agreeing an extension. Coronavirus is having a monumental impact on almost every aspect of life in Europe. It makes sense to step back and take the time that is needed to get Brexit right. Dogma and ideology will not serve anyone well at this time. Sadly, Brexiters in the UK Government are still fighting their corner as if it was 2016.

[1] https://www.icao.int/sustainability/Pages/Economic-Impacts-of-COVID-19.aspx

[2] https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/air-transport/2020-04-22/deltas-bastian-sees-recovery-taking-long-three-years

[3] The word ‘furlough’ generally means temporary leave of absence from work.

[4] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/there-is-nothing-to-lose-from-a-brexit-extension

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/second-round-uk-eu-future-relationship-negotiations-20-24-april