Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 3

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.[1]”  It seems strange to me that the first and only time I have ever been in the London O2 arena was 20 years ago when it opened as the Millennium Dome. In that 20 years, I moved from aircraft certification to aviation safety and research to playing my part in setting up a new European Agency in Cologne.  And then retiring back to the UK.  The millennium events were full of ambition, imagination and hope.  As we enter the 2nd decade of the 2000s, the experience of Brexit makes no sense in that context.

This week, on behalf of the EU, the European Commission adopted a draft negotiating directive for a new partnership with the United Kingdom (UK)[2].  This material includes the following for Transport and Aviation:

  1. b) Aviation safety
  2. The envisaged partnership should facilitate trade and investment in aeronautical products, parts and appliances through cooperation in areas such as certification and monitoring, the production oversight and environmental approval and testing. Negotiations should be based on both Parties being satisfied with the other Party’s requirements, regulatory processes and capacity to implement them.
  3. Nothing in the envisaged partnership should entail reciprocal acceptance of the standards and technical regulations of the Parties. Rather, it should limit duplication of assessments to significant regulatory differences and allow, to the extent possible, reliance on the certification system of the other Party. It may also specify modalities, based for example on the respective experience and knowledge of the other party, for the respective level of involvement of the authorities. To facilitate the achievement of the objective set out above, the envisaged partnership may also provide for regulatory co-operation.
  4. The acceptance by one Party of findings or certificates of the other Party shall only take place when, and as long as, the first Party is able to establish and maintain confidence in the other Party’s ability to discharge its obligations in accordance with the envisaged partnership. The envisaged partnership should include appropriate cooperation mechanisms to verify on a reciprocal basis the continued fitness and ability of the regulatory bodies involved in its implementation.

However awkwardly written, none of this negotiating text should be a surprise.  This is what the European Union (EU) might say to any 3rd Country.  Given that the starting position for the UK is alignment then aspects of the above should be achievable without great stress.  However, there are subjects like; initial airworthiness (design certification) where the UK has not been fully competent since September 2003. A demonstration of ability, capacity, experience and knowledge on that subject will likely take more than 11 months.  Much of that depends on the degree to which the slogan: “take back control” was intended.

No doubt the above negotiating text on aviation safety is well researched and reasoned and that the background thinking exists in internal documents within the EU.   Since Brexit, British diplomats no longer have formal access to internal documents and information so there’s likely to be a lot more dinners and lunches in Brussels restaurants.

Yes, the UK has formally left the EU, but it hasn’t left numerous other European institutions.  One of them is an intergovernmental organisation based in Paris called the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC)[3].  The predecessor to the European Union Safety Aviation Agency (EASA), the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) were established by ECAC in the 1990s.  It will be interesting to see what role the UK will play in this ECAC in coming years.  Will it be more vocal?

[1] Quote from: Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership/future-partnership/guide-negotiations_en

[3] https://www.ecac-ceac.org/about-ecac

Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 2

Watching UK Prime Minister Johnson’s speech[1], made in Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich yesterday, there’s no doubt the setting was impressive.  The words were not so impressive.  In fact, they were downright confusing. Phrases like: “Free trade is the only certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace” are peculiar given that the UK has just left one of the world’s most successful projects for free trade and peace.

There were jaunty references to being like Canada, or Australia or something akin to these two Commonwealth States.  The vision painted by Johnson had none of the precision or artistry of the walls in the recently restored Painted Hall[2].   Even so, there was an echoing theme that the UK wouldn’t follow any rules other than its own.

The reference to a country that’s bigger in physical size but smaller in population and that has a larger neighbour to the south, is interesting from an aviation perspective.  It’s true that Canada has its own aviation regulatory structure.  It hosts the international organisation that is responsible for aviation standards, namely ICAO.  In addition, it has major aerospace design, manufacturing and maintenance companies as well as international operators.

However, Canada’s free trade agreement (CETA) with the European Union (EU) doesn’t eliminate all tariffs and quotas.  Built over many years, for aviation there is a level of mutual recognition between Canada and the EU.

In 2011, an agreement on civil aviation safety between the EU and Canada entered into force[3].  Part of this agreement includes detailed working arrangements.  This international cooperation was agreed when both sides demonstrated to the other that they had the regulatory competence and capacity to satisfy each other’s needs.  The work is by no means finished.

So, yes perhaps it is the case that carbon copy rules, or complete harmonisation between parties is not the only route to mutual recognition.  Usually, regulatory differences exist not because parties want them to exist for their own sake but that each party has a different set of experiences.  In design certification, the reason for a great number of rules and standards can be traced back to accidents and incidents.  Not everyone has had the same history or operates in the same environment (social, political, economic and so on).  Regulatory maturity is only established over decades.  Then regulators can assess each other’s systems and decide that arrangements, like accepting each other’s certificates can be done safely.  What I’ve described doesn’t happen overnight.  A conservative, with a small “c”, approach is taken to aviation safety because the consequences of getting it wrong can be tragic.

[1] https://twitter.com/10DowningStreet/status/1224435858985472000?s=20

[2] https://ornc.org/our-story/royal-hospital/painted-hall/

[3] https://www.easa.europa.eu/document-library/bilateral-agreements/eu-canada

Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 1

The UK flag has been taken down at the European Union (EU) Council building in Brussels.  This is one of the actions that marks Brexit.  After almost 50 years of EU membership and 3 years of acrimony over the vote to leave, the UK has formally left the EU.  Now, the EU and the UK enter a transition period during which detailed talks take place[1].   The transition period is due to end on 31 December 2020.  So, time is short, and ambitions are high.  If there’s a pragmatic upside to these events, it does make it more difficult for national politicians to use the EU as a scapegoat.  That said, given the propensity to use blame as a way of avoiding accountability then no doubt a new target will be found.

As we enter what will be another frantic period, both parties to the EU-UK negotiations are setting out their shop windows.  The consequences of this, is that, and so on.  What’s unusual about these negotiations is that there are two parties start with free trade and a level playing field but talk of erecting barriers as they go.  Usually, it’s the other way around whereby the aim of detailed negotiations is to remove barriers.  To any dispassionate observer this does seem to be wacky.

In the aviation sector, will the UK continue to participate in the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) systems and comply with European regulations?   In the short-term there’s time for a transition but a transition to what in 11 months?  In the long-term, a relationship on aviation is to be determined but what are the aims and objectives?

Based on my experience of setting up a new international Aviation Agency, I’d make the following simple recommendations:

  • Recognise that aviation regulation is both social and technical. The political domain must heed the technical and vice-versa.  The public demand mutual respect.
  • Respecting aviation’s legacy at the same time as being innovative in regulation requires a deft touch. Products have long lives and technology advances rapidly.  Avoid excessive prescription accepting that some is necessary.  Be clear about performance objectives.
  • Treat all 3 of these capabilities as equally important, being: Reactive, Pro-active and Prognostic. The first inevitable because the last is imperfect.  Day-to-day the most important is what you are doing – now.
  • Big or small, the Boardroom and the shop floor have equal importance. Top-down: safety is number one.  Bottom-up: actions directly impact safety.  Never create too many complex layers between these two parts of an organisation.
  • Don’t take on more actions than your regulatory system of processes and procedures can work effectively.  Trying to satisfy everyone ends in disappointment.  Trying to sweep concerns under the carpet ends in tragedy.
  • Embrace new knowledge but don’t become allured by aggressive marketing. Verification and validation can’t be skipped just because of the confidence of the promoter.

There’s much more that can be said but the six items above come to mind.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership_en

Brexit & Aviation 118

For the British politician the 31st January 2020 is a big event.  For most people in employment, the Brexit confusion and uncertainty continues at least for another 11 months.  Social Media is a good indication of the conversations people in aviation employment are having.  One question raised yesterday has been raised many times: After Brexit will the EASA licences that were obtained in the UK still be valid? 

Despite the name, these mandatory licences are not issued by EASA in Cologne but issued by European Union (EU) Member States applying European rules.  National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) have this responsibility.  The European system requires EASA and the NAAs to work together.   In order to get an EASA Part-66 AML (Aircraft Maintenance License), an applicant needs to show a basic knowledge in relevant aviation subjects.

Having common rules throughout EASA Member States means that they accept an EASA licence that is granted by one of those States.   In addition, States across the globe, who have a relationship with the EU can choose to accept an EASA licence.   That’s what happens in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where most of the world’s Airbus A380 aircraft are based, for example.

So, the EU and the UK are entering a transition period during which UK aviation will continue to participate in the EASA systems.  That means compliance with EU regulations while the longer-term EU-UK aviation relationship is worked out.   Currently the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website has a statement[1]:

Engineers transferring their Part-66 licence to other Member States: While the CAA will continue to accept and process Part 66 transfer applications under existing EASA transfer arrangements until the UK leaves the EU, the procedures adopted by the receiving NAA and recognised validity of the licence during the transfer process may vary amongst EU member states. Applicants who require continuity of validity throughout the transfer process are therefore advised to apply at least 3 months prior to Exit Day and should also consider engaging with their intended receiving NAA to identify any potential issues.

Clearly, there are numerous combinations and permutations of situations that can arise for engineers working on aircraft.   Given the history of licencing it’s highly likely that an arrangement will be worked out for next year, 2021.  For now, each individual aircraft engineer needs to check their situation dependent on where they are working and on what aircraft they are working on, at what time.

This will put extra stress on global regulatory oversight activities too.

[1] https://info.caa.co.uk/brexit/licensed-engineers/

Brexit & Aviation 117

2020 is the year of the Rat. The Chinese New Year in starts on Saturday, 25th January.  This is going to be a pivotal year for those born in 1960, like myself.  I hope that all the Rats out there are going to be as ambitious, creative and intelligent as astrologically predicted.  Certainly, that would help with Brexit just days away.

Brexit Day is Friday, 31st January.  It’s like passing through a one-way valve and not so much a bell ringers paradise.  Or even a reason for fanfares.  It’s the date of entry into force of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA), or at least it should be.  Thus, the UK will leave the EU in a fully legal way.  Nevertheless, EU law will continue to apply in the UK for the period of the WA.   That is, that the UK will remain bound by EU treaties.  Also, the EU will ask its partners to treat the UK as if it were still a Member State for all those existing treaties[1].

The biggest impact of the end of the month is that there will no longer be the possibility of revoking the Article 50 TEU[2].   From then on, the way back for the UK to re-join the EU is provided for in Article 49 TEU.  In that foreseeable but unlikely case the UK would be viewed as an applicant State.

In addition to the above, from the 31st the UK loses its institutional representation in the EU.  So, no more British members of the European Parliament, or European Commissioners or European Council members.  Interestingly, at the time of the signing of the Lisbon Treaty the EU had 27 Member States and now it’s returning to that number.

Outside the EU, will the UK be better placed to tackle the major challenges that all States face, including globalisation, climate change, energy security, terrorism and organised crime[3]?  That’s the big open question.  The UK will leave the EU on 31st, but there remains a lot of complex negotiations to come.  This is the start of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

So, is there general happiness and contentment?  No.  In fact, businesses continue to be cautious and concerned.  In particular, the aerospace industry has been alarmed by talk of major regulatory upsets[4].  What will the institutional framework be for the future?   How will it be staffed and funded?  Businesses would like to know where the UK Government intends to go next[5].   It remains difficult to plan if there’s only a scant idea of the intended destination.  That said, Brexit is not bad for everyone.  Germany has seen an increase in interest from British businesses.

[1] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/brexit-transition-period

[2] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/577971/EPRS_BRI(2016)577971_EN.pdf

[3] https://twitter.com/wef/status/1218937427936583681?s=20

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/a89dfdea-3d07-11ea-a01a-bae547046735

[5] https://www.iod.com/news-campaigns/news/articles/IoD-calls-on-Government-to-publish-Brexit-negotiating-objectives

Brexit & Aviation 116

On your marks, get set and go.  The starting pistol hasn’t been fired yet, but the players are on their marks.  It’s a 100-meter sprint.  Or should I say a 109.361-yard sprint to the end of the year.

The EU27 Member States are having their preparatory discussions on their future relationship with the UK[1].  At the same time statements are drifting out of British Minister’s offices containing rhetoric more suited to an election campaign.

Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the EU[2] is up and running until 30 June 2020 when Germany takes over.  The EU’s “Internal EU27 Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom” has published slides that illustrate the likely situation after the 31st January.   They recognise that transport, including aviation will be a fundamental component of the EU-UK relationship.  It’s clear that UK aviation operators will no longer have the same access rights as EU Member State operators.

Now, according to The Financial Times the British Chancellor is saying[3]: “There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule taker, we will not be in the Single Market and we will not be in the Customs Union — and we will do this by the end of the year.”

These words maybe for public consumption because to an extent they speak the obvious.  One exception is the notion that the UK will not be a “rule taker”.  Naturally, this can be interpreted in many ways, even in this year, when the existing Withdrawal Agreement becomes law.  Because that agreement has the affect of taking European rules and making them UK rules.

In trading with large markets, like the EU and US there’s going to be the obligation to meet their standards.  It seems obvious to say but that means having rules that are either taken from those parties or that are acceptable to those parties.  Call that what you like but it is taking rules.  Never in the past did the UK Parliament approve every single new or modified rule that the was part of compliance with an international agreement and it’s likely that will continue.

EU aviation rules are designed to be compliant with international standards and recommended practices.  There is scope for the UK to deviate from the existing arrangements.  The question should be asked, as to; why and what are the benefits in doing so?

Meanwhile, as the scene is set for the next step in these vital international negotiations, the daily news in the UK is far more trivial; a £500,000 crowd funding exercise for some big bongs in London is filling the airwaves and newspapers.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/seminar-20200115-transport_en.pdf

[2] https://eu2020.hr/

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/18ddc610-3940-11ea-a6d3-9a26f8c3cba4

Brexit & Aviation 115

It’s January.  There’s no doubt that we have entered a new political era in the UK.  It’s 13 days into the new decade.  Although the basic issues haven’t changed much the manner of the debate about what might be possible has changed beyond recognition.  Unlike in 2017, the UK General Election (GE) has given us a solidly “Leave” Parliament.  Whatever most of the people in the Country may think or wish, the lawmakers we have are predominantly Eurosceptic.

The UK’s pro-European movements will keep fighting for their views to be represented in UK politics.  There’s an important place for those who would have preferred to “Remain” in the European Union (EU), but their voice is diminished.  Now future of relationships on trade, transport and security must be determined within the lifetime of this new UK Parliament.  Given the size of the political majority, I assume it will last for 5-years.

Most experts with experience of Government negotiations know Brexit won’t be “done” in 2020[1].   British businesses, including aviation will not be fully ready for next December.  Any EU-UK deal agreed this year will probably be limited in scope[2].   No one, outside a small group on Ministers, knows if that will include international aviation.

The European Commission (EC) Task Force for Relations with the UK has just published slides that show how they see the start of negotiations.   These slides were provided for information purposes to the Council Working Party (Article 50) on 13 January.  They show the huge gap between a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Single Market.

British MEPs are arriving at the Strasbourg Parliament for the last time[3].   On the agenda this week are such subjects as an EU-China Agreement on aspects of air services.  It does seem strange that the UK will no longer be part of the debate on such subjects post-Brexit.  Surely there will be a continuing interest in such debates.

In the news is the fact that Europe’s biggest regional airline Flybe are fighting for survival less than a year after being bailed out by an industry consortium.  Some deny that this is Brexit related.  Others disagree: “Brexit and the way the government’s aviation taxes hit a regional airline like Flybe have been a double whammy,” says Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw[4].   They fly from Exeter airport.  The company, as a member of the European Regions Airline Association[5] based in Surrey, no doubt supports the view that the aviation industry shouldn’t suffer the brunt of political inadequacies.

Note: 15/01/2020.  Flybe has been saved from a potential collapse after the UK Government and company shareholders agreed to provide emergency funding.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/why-brexit-will-not-be-done-by-this-year-2020-1?r=US&IR=T

[2] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications/getting-brexit-done

[3] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/infos-details.html?id=17301&type=Flash

[4] https://www.benbradshaw.co.uk/

[5] https://www.eraa.org/sites/default/files/180214_pb_brexit_brochure_feb18_0.pdf

Brexit & Aviation 114

We are now in that strange no-man’s-land between Christmas and the New Year.  Often a time when people are gathering their reflections on the year that’s passing.  It’s a time to look ahead too.  Look ahead with hope and optimism, in so far as one can.

There’s a couple of news stories floating around primed to stir-up new political conflicts as we burst into 2020.  A “will they or won’t they?” series of speculations about the rules that the City of London may or may not have to follow post Brexit is running.  Similar speculations could be applied to transport but that’s not at the top of the agenda just now.  It seems crazy to state the obvious but leaving an organisation based on law will have legal consequences regardless of the sector.

Next year, talks will proceed along the lines of the Political Declaration that was drawn-up by the two parties, in October last.  That document is non-binding but does set the tone for what the UK and EU want or wanted at the time.  No doubt a red line for the EU27 Member States in the 2nd phase of the Brexit negotiations will be a level playing field[1].  As I’ve pointed out before, in aviation technical regulations and standards are just as important as tariffs.  In my last item, I poo pooed “no alignment” because my Mr Spock like logic says; no one aims for a lose-lose outcome.  Do they?

Today, some right-wing activists are shouting; let’s get back to gallons, ounces and yards.  Having won battles like the change of the British passport colour to blue[2], there’s a group that has been emboldened by Brexit.  All British passports issued from early 2020 will be blue.  National newspapers[3] print the cry; let’s have temperature reported in Fahrenheit and liquids in pints and fluid ounces.  All this might be easily dismissed but it is as well to remember that a whole lot of things have been dismissed and then they came to be.  Unfortunately, for us appeasing a populist political trend is part of the play book of the new UK Government.  On 31 January the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) will come to an end.  The UK PM will next switch from phrases like: “Get Brexit Done” to “Taskforce Europe” to whitewash the fact that Brexit goes on and on.  At the same time the UK Parliament will become no more than a bystander in what’s to come.   

None of this retrograde thinking or smoke and mirrors is in the best interests of the Country.  We are at a time when digitisation is transforming the heart of aerospace manufacturing.  Aviation businesses are implementing significant changes to maximise opportunities in more integrated systems.  Being side-tracked into British imperial theme park romanticism will mean a declining marketplace.

These Brexit stories will be a part of the popular news in the year ahead but so will be the US Presidential race.  What happens in the US will have a global impact, especially if the incumbent is re-elected.  That will be in the foreground while EU – UK talks will be in the background until a crunch decision time comes.  There will be more than one of these crunch times throughout the year.  Expect a predicable line to be taken as the Conservatives tighten their grip on power.

[1] https://www.epc.eu/en/publications/Ensuring-a-post-Brexit-level-playing-field~26c1e0

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/passport-design-changes/changes-to-the-design-of-british-passports

[3] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/01/now-sovereign-nation-must-bring-back-imperial-units/

Brexit & Aviation 112

It has been reported that the British Prime Minister will put his Brexit bill before MPs on Friday, 20 December.   Before the UK General Election (GE), the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) passed a vote on the floor of the House of Commons (HoC) by 329 votes to 299 votes.  However, the Prime Minister then withdrew the WAB.  Now, with an overall majority in the UK Parliament, the WAB should make progress and pass into UK law before the UK leaves the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020.

The appointment of the HoC Speaker takes place on Tuesday, 17 December.  The HoC must choose its Speaker after the GE, and this is the first thing it does on the first day it meets after the GE.  Then there’s the State opening of Parliament on is Thursday, 19 December.

EU leaders have expressed hope that the decisive UK GE victory last week will bring more clarity to the UK’s position in coming negotiations.  Meanwhile the EU has changed.  Ursula von der Leyen is in post as the first woman President of the European Commission.  The European Parliament (EP) 16 – 19 December session in Strasbourg has just kicked-off.

I assume that the 73 British MEPs elected will need to give up their seats in the European Parliament (EP).  The current composition (751 MEPs) of the EP continues to apply for as long as the UK is an EU Member State.  A new composition of the EP will apply at the date of the withdrawal of the UK (from 751 to down to 705 MEPs).

The EU Council presidency of held by Finland comes to an end as we end the year.  Next in line is Croatia: January-June 2020 and then Germany: July-December 2020.  Recently the European Commission has said that Europe must unblock Single European Sky (SES) under the leadership of the Croatian and German Presidencies.   This is strongly in the interest of the UK, but the UK will no longer be around the table in 2020.  Making SES work means reduced flying times and using less fuel.  Environmental imperatives.

Back in September this year, the UK Government and UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) expressed the view[1] that remaining a member of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was a shared goal.  If the new UK Government and EU decide that this cannot be achieved, then much work will need to be undertaken.

On passage of the WAB into UK law, there will then be a transition period to undertake EU-UK negotiations, based on the Revised Political Declaration[1].   This document is very light on aviation matters.  The Government wants negotiations done by the end of 2020 and the deal in force at the start of 2021.  This is exceptionally speedy given the change of political climate and the vagueness of existing commitments.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/revised-political-declaration_en

[1] CAP1714: The CAA’s guide to Brexit No Deal & Aviation Safety

Brexit & Aviation 111

And so, it begins.  It’s December Friday 13th.  The winter election is over.  The results of the UK General Election (GE) are with us[1].   The election victory for the UK Conservative Party is complete.  Their leader, Boris Johnson will continue as UK Prime Minister with an overall majority in the UK Parliament.

It’s almost certain that the Parliamentary scrutiny of the previously tabled Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) will now be a cursory matter as it’s pushed through at speed.  The UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) will come to an end.  Next year will be one that breaks ties that have linked continental Europe and the UK since my childhood.  Even now it’s not entirely clear what that will mean to either party.

Newly elected Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) are committed to Brexit.  That said, amongst them there’s a great number of different views as to the direction that should be taken post-Brexit.  Deciding the future EU-UK relationship with respect to aviation is a matter for the UK Government in its future negotiations with the EU.  At this stage it’s not clear what path that negotiation will take.

A cabinet reshuffle may take place on next Monday.  There are no signs that this will include Transport.  Transport related polices are not so evident from the Conservative’s election manifesto.  There’s some mention of efforts to boost productivity and innovation.  Also, investment in skills and training get a few lines.

UK MPs will return to the House of Commons (HoC) on Tuesday, 17 December.  Then the following Thursday is likely to see a new Queen’s Speech where the UK Government’s sets out its legislative agenda.  Britain is due to leave the EU on 31 January, the 4th deadline since the 2016 referendum.  It’s certain that January will be dominated by the legislative work to pass the WAB.

However, this is not Brexit “done”.  If the WAB passes, the UK will enter a transition phase where its relationship with the EU will, in practice remain unchanged until 31 December 2020.  In many ways the real work is just beginning.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50765773