Brexit & Aviation 101

The implications of the prorogation of the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament and the inevitability of a UK General Election (GE) are difficult to fathom.  Factor in the flexibility with which rules and procedures are being interpreted and the mix is ever more complex.  It’s becoming clear that the hard Brexit deadline of 31st October 2019 isn’t a formula for a restoration of clarity, consistency and stability in the manner UK Government Ministers have been saying.

Let’s remember that a GE was scheduled for May 2022 and the last snap GE in 2017 did nothing to ease the pain of Brexit.  Moving the deck chairs around doesn’t stop the bad-tempered political rows that have become part of the daily news diet.

Although the general public had little interest in the subject until around 2015, the European question has become the defining political issue of our time.  Geography and history make the UK a European nation.  The question is that social, economic and political ties are at a crossroads.  Over the next few weeks British politicians trot off to their respective annual conferences.  All the time the hard Brexit deadline of 31st October 2019 looms in the background.

Meanwhile adjustments are being made with respect of European aviation.  Regulations adopted by the European Union (EU) in early 2019 which were due to come into effect on 29th March 2019 are now being extended so that they don’t expire until 24th October 2020[1].

It’s taken 3-years for the impact of leaving the European Single Market to sink in.  So much of what we do on a day-to-day basis is dependent upon Just-In-Time movements of good backwards and forwards between the UK and the rest of Europe.  The level playing field that has been created within the EU has benefited everyone but may have been taken for granted given its transparent success.

For a while the standards of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will continue to apply in the UK[2].  However, the UK will lose its strong influence over the development of the EASA regulatory framework.  In consultations there’s no doubt UK technical experts will continue to offer comments on proposed rule changes.  Such comments will be considered by EASA as they are from any “Third Country”.  That said, the UK will lose its seat at the table when it comes to making major financial and policy decisions that will shape the future European regulatory framework.

My assumption above is that the UK’s membership of EASA is terminated with a No Deal Brexit.  That means all the tasks currently undertaken by EASA will need to be taken up by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  To fully understand the implications of this change it’s to do more than a full reversal of what has been achieved since 29 September 2003.  That’s when EASA first took on responsibility for its allocated tasks.  A backward move that has no upside.




Aviation & Brexit 100

One of the problems with using a tool like: risk assessment to apply to a big change is that of choosing a scenario that has a realistic likelihood.  I don’t know if the sale of crystal balls has increased during the last 3-years, but it is surely a good business to get into.  It’s been 1167 days since the UK European Union (EU) Referendum Vote.  This week has turned the domestic political world upside down as if we had been asleep for all those days.  The UK now has a Prime Minister at the head of a minority Government that could fall relatively quickly.

At the same time, the UK Government’s man with the fancy title; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has launched a massively expensive “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign.  This strangely assured act has not been lost on comedians and satirists.  Although the public campaign says you must get ready for 31 October 2019, the UK Parliament may have a different idea as it asserts control over the next phases of Brexit.

57 days to go and the risks of more upsets remain.  Whatever happens, be on day one or after a short stopgap, leaving the EU means that the UK will no longer be able to trade as it has for the last 40 years with the Continental Europe.

In the run up to the original Brexit deadline at the end of March 2019, UK manufacturers including aerospace companies took up stock-pilling.  That has been expensive and holding high levels of stocks undermines the efficiency of production and delivery systems[1].

The overall value of global aircraft deliveries to UK industry, so far this year is £17 billion[2].  However economic factors and the threat of a No Deal Brexit outcome has slowed production.  UK aerospace production fell 3.8 per cent in the first half of 2019, continuing a downward trend from 2018 as the impact of Brexit continues[3].

For the sake of balance, recent news is not all negative as the 2019 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness report from the professional services firm PwC points out[4].  Although this report could be criticised for layering analysis on top of analysis.  Not only that but the historic data used derives from the status-quo being that the UK was in the EU.

It seems that reliable crystal balls are hard to come by.  Most of them tend to draw conclusions from past performance and look forwards on the basis that there’s a degree on linearity with respect to what happens next.  Unfortunately, that’s not so useful when disruptive forces act in random ways.  Brexit is a step change that is not amenable to simple thinking.






Aviation & Brexit 98

It was all the way back on 29 March 2017 that the United Kingdom (UK) submitted the notification of its intention to withdraw from the European Union (EU).  Today, on 29 August 2019 the UK remains an EU Member State.

1162 days since the 2016 referendum.  63 days until the UK plans to withdraw.

The new UK Prime Minister faces the same constraints as his predecessor but is approaching withdrawal from the EU in a different way.  Mentioning the UK Government’s constitutional chicanery, to keep the UK Parliament quiet, is not what I’m going to do here.  That subject is so widely covered everywhere else.  It has left most people astonished.

It seems what we have now is not a game of chess between the UK and EU where logical rules prevail.  This is more like a game of high stakes Poker[1].  The problems with such an approach to international relations is the inevitable escalation that’s a part of the process.   Not only that but the inability or impossibility of a nation State and its politicians to maintain a Poker face.

In civil aviation, the reality is that we need logical rules to keep the planes flying.  It’s a complex technical system.  If the UK falls out of EU based regulatory systems for parts, products[2], organisations and personnel licences a massive amount of work will need to be done.  No amount of bluff can substitute for demonstrated competence.  Or if it does substitute then safety, security and sound business can be severally compromised.  International insurers will not cover a plane, pilot or engineer that doesn’t have a recognised and respected regulatory certification or approval.

At this unfortunate hiatus in the Brexit process a lot of people are pacing the floor wondering what will happen next and what contingency measure to best take.  Sound advice is in short supply.  Official sources often hedge their bets.

In the end, given that both the UK and the EU take great pride in what they do to be competent, there will have to be a return to a form of mutual respect and recognition.  If Brexit is overturned that should be straightforward.  If Brexit goes ahead with a withdrawal agreement and the UK becomes a third country[3] that should be possible.  However, if a No Deal or a disorderly outcome prevails all bets are off.


[2]  “product” means an aircraft, engine or propeller.

[3] A third country is a country not member of the EU.

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 96

69 days left on the Brexit clock.  Only a few days untill the UK Parliament returns from its summer break.  And now 30 days to find an alternative to a hard border on the island of Ireland.  Or is that now 28 days?  That said, Brexiters have had decades to come up with a workable answer to that question so I wonder if a few more days will change anything.  Now, the EU is waiting for “realistic, operational & compatible” proposals.

If the UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)[1] will take over the functions performed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in relation to aviation approvals and certifications.  The EASA’s mandate and roles as an Agency of the EU with regulatory and executive tasks in the field of civil aviation safety are not altered within the EU-28 and 4 associated Countries until the UK leaves.

Details about a non-negotiated EU exit and its impact on aviation and aerospace industries have been published.  It’s worth having a look at “The CAA’s guide to Brexit No Deal & Aviation Safety[2]”.  It’s well presented and a useful summary of the temporary measure in place.  There’s one mistake on the final page on slide 13 where it references: “membership of the global aviation regulator ICAO”.  The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN).  The UK has been an ICAO Member State since its origins.  However, it’s not right to call ICAO an aviation regulator.  It does publish Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) and its Member States are expected to comply with those SARPS.  However, although ICAO conducts audits it doesn’t have a right of enforcement and thus is not a regulator.  It can’t levy fines or amend or remove approvals or certificates.  It doesn’t issue licences or directives.  Aviation is a global industry, but it is not globally regulated.

In 31 days, the ICAO Assembly[3]​ takes place in Montreal, Canada.  This is the international organisation’s sovereign body where major policy decisions are made for the next 3-years.  ICAO’s 193 Member States, and many international organisations are invited to the general Assembly.  Many working papers and information papers are submitted for the participants to consider.  European papers are coordinated before the Assembly[4].  In this case they are submitted and presented by Finland on behalf of the EU and its Member States, the other Member States of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), and by EUROCONTROL.  I imagine this situation will remain unchanged if Brexit happens since the UK will remain a member of ECAC and EUROCONTROL.   At least as far as I know.





Aviation & Brexit 95

Thundering down the road like a man obsessed, UK Prime Minster Johnson stares the Brexit deadline of 31 October in the face.  Some British people like this bravado.  It plays well as emotions are manipulated in the heightened reality of a stage drama.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a dramatic production this is real life.

In real life, the UK is not prepared for a No Deal Brexit.  Separation from the European Union (EU) without a mutually beneficial, reasonable and rational deal has become almost a certainty.  Forcing this situation on every walk of life in the UK is tragic.

The aviation industry is not ready[1].

Here’s another aspect of this situation that troubles me.  I was an engineering student in the city of Coventry at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s.  Large swaths of traditional British manufacturing were dying all around us.  The UK Government’s approach was: “devil take the hind most”.  Its crude free market thinking that I see in play now.  It goes like this: we, the Government will not support you (industry) if you are not strong enough to survive a transformative downturn because that’s the test of your worth to the nation.  So, rather than helping major employers bridge a gap, reorganise and build a future the UK lost or sold off potential future global industrial titans.

In aviation, travel maybe be governed by foreign exchange volatility in the short-term.  In the long-term technology and the regulatory framework are the key issues.  To suceed, the more harmonised regulations become the more of an enabler they can be.

Today, regardless of the domestic political machinations of Brexit there’s a global industrial transformation going on.  Some people call it the fourth industrial revolution.  Reading numerous intelligent commentators[2] on this subject it’s more than clear that the aggressive approach taken in the early 80s is completely hopeless when faced with what’s coming down the road.

As an internationalist, I’ll use some words that start with “inter” – interaction, interconnection, interdependency and interrelation.  Connections between or among the people, things, or places are growing at an increasing rate.  This will not slow down.  More and more of everything around us is connected.  In this world small minded nationalist thinking, barriers and walls are an anathema.

Brexit is hopelessly doomed.  It encourages short-term reactive thinking, as we have seen over the last 3-years.  It’s fuelled by hideously outdated free market thinking.  It’s rejecting the power of cooperative working across Europe.  In 72 days[3], there’s not much that can be done to reorient given such global trends.  The conclusion is that Brexit must be delayed or preferably stopped.  We (UK) are going down the wrong road.





Idiotic Approach

The word “idiotic” might seem to be strong.  It’s to show a complete lack of thought or common sense.  Some academics would say that we are idiotic a lot of the time because we don’t take the time to think things through[1].  Certainly, we have all had moments when we wish we’d just taken a bit more time over a decision.  To me that brings to mind the politicans prayer: Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.

What I’m asserting here is that the UK Government’s approach to Brexit is idiotic.  Now; I know the reaction to that statement might be a knee-jerk one driven by commitments to support Brexit.  Let’s try to put simplistic responses aside.  Let’s try to quell prejudices and pre-conceived ideas.  Let’s stand-back and take a wider view of what’s going on.

To start, I’m going to need to make assumptions.  Clearly if you disagree with these then you may make a different case.  But there’s a fundamentals that need to be written.

A modern democratic State, of which the UK is one, and each of the 27 Members of the European Union (EU) are one too, comprises of constantly changing ambitions and attitudes that may or may not accurately reflect those of its people.  Some democratic systems are better at making that connection than others.

I assume that States are dispassionate and are driven by their own interests above other considerations[2].  That said, they can recognise common interests when they choose to do so.  Major topics, like Climate Change need an agreed common approach.

Adding to all that the famous words of Scottish poet and cleric, John Donne; “No Man is an Island”[3].  In other words, everything we do is seem by others, has the capacity to influence others and vice versa.  We are all involved in mankind.   So, that’s my basic assumptions in a few lines.

Today, the UK Government’s approach to Brexit negotiations is to play chicken.  That’s to engage in a test of nerve in which, they expect the EU to blink at the last moment.  The UK Government has made demands which are aimed at applying pressure to the EU to blink.  If either party does not swerve before the end of October deadline then both parties lose in walking away with a No Deal outcome.

This is idiotic.   Driving at high speed towards a brick wall is always stupid regardless of how good a car’s brakes might be, unless the intention is to hit the wall.

This is idiotic.  Hoping to secure a deal while talking up failure, and an attempt to blame others for that failure eats away at trust.  Deals are only done if trust is upheld.

This is idiotic.  The world is watching.  A dispassionate observer might say; if they do this to their next door friends of 40 years what on Earth might they do to us?  Reputational damage is normally best avoided.  Ego, bluster and bullish puffing up of the chest cannot cover up weak excusses.  It takes a long-time to recover damaged reputations.

This is idiotic.  There are 195 countries in the world. The combinations and permutations of different relationship is large.  If we take trade, it’s true those relationships vary greatly in terms of alignment and level of business.  However, the common interest of States is to see the rule of law upheld.

This is idiotic.  The combined GDP of the EU 27 Members States is 6-times bigger than that of the UK.  If the EU blinks at the last moment in Brexit negotiations other large parties, it has trade relations with like the US or China may look to apply the same strategy.  Clearly, it’s not in the EU’s interest to take that risk and therefore it will not do so.  Better to lose at a smaller game than lose at a bigger one.

This is nice but the argument above doesn’t come with a special British get out of jail free card.  The “play chicken” approach is not in the interests of most States.  And when it’s mostly obviously done to satisfy a domestic UK political audience it’s doubly bankrupt.

The UK Government’s approach to Brexit is idiotic.  Let’ hope we can still change it.


[2] De Gaulle (in English): “France has no friends, only interests.” (De Gaulle did not speak specifically of France, but of all nation-states, including Britain.


Aviation & Brexit 94

Preparations for the UK’s Brexit continue but these times cannot be “normal”. New Conservative UK Prime Minister Johnson insists that the UK will leave the EU on the 31 October 2019 “do or die”.  Bellicose politicians can be inclined to use outspoken language but in this case it’s more than even the House of Commons is accustomed too.

A sharp divergence for all to see.  There’s the pragmatic and rational approach where judicious arrangements are made around an overall deal between the UK and EU.  This is not exactly a win-win but it’s to get as close to it as possible in the current climate.  At the same time, there’s the reckless push to sever relationships with only the minimum of temporary provisions at the lowest possible default conditions.   This really is the lose-lose for both UK and EU[1].

Sitting in the South East of England, as I do, I see there’s a myopic element to this foolish “do or die” attitude.  It’s a political approach that’s taken to satisfy a domestic audience as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist.  However, the rest of the world can see what is going on between UK and EU and most reports aren’t complementary.

The next European Council[2] summit is 14 days before the UK is due to leave the EU.  The agenda for that meeting in Brussels has yet to be published but Brexit is surely going to be on the list.  On 19 October there’s to be big protest march through the streets of London.  Organised by the European Movement and the People’s Vote[3] campaign this is expected to be a major historic event.   So, a full 3-years after the 2016 UK referendum the final half of 2019 is going to be a rough ride for all involved and beyond.

Aviation companies, licenced people and regulators have been preparing for Brexit from the moment the UK Prime Minister’s letter kicked-off the Article 50 process.  The stated assumption was that a UK-EU deal would be struck, and a reasonable degree of continuity would be maintained.  In an inconsistent fashion UK Prime Minister Johnson has recently said that the chances of a No Deal Brexit are a million to one.   This doesn’t seem credible given that no negotiations are on-going.

What does anyone believe in such a strange situation?  With days to go, I believe it’s wise to plan for the worst-case scenario, of a No Deal Brexit with animosity on both sides.  Services will be vulnerable to interruption. Transactions will be more complex. The regulatory framework will be uncertain.  It’s highly likely some civil aircraft will be grounded because they can’t get the right parts with the right paperwork at the right time.

Post Brexit the UK will be viewed as a “Third Country” in respect of European legislation.  A huge amount of work will be needed to re-build relationships.





Aviation & Brexit 93

83-days[1] to the next scheduled Brexit cliff edge.

Large numbers of companies based in the UK have applied to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to be recognised as “third-country” organisations that are able to do business within the European Single Market[2].  Few consider that a purely UK approval will be enough to enable them to continue their international business.  This is not taking back control from “bureaucrats” but giving them more work to do.

Many in the aviation industry, including myself did firmly believe that the UK would remain a member of EASA, despite Brexit.  However, it seems we were wrong.

It’s important to recall that prior to the UK referendum the now Prime Minister Johnson was saying that we will not leave the European Single Market.  Leave campaigners sold a story that, for all its incoherence and inconsistency, was simple but downright dishonest.  Yet, every single time an “expert” points out the significant downsides of Brexit, almost faster than the speed of light, a volley of criticisms come their way.  It’s a predicable range of statements from: just ignore them it’s “project fear” again to fake news by elitists having a hissy fit to stop Brexit.   And then there’s the abuse that is much worse but the less said about that the better.

The claims now being made by Brexit supporting UK Ministers are that UK business wants certainty and the only way to get it is to force the issue on 31 October 2019.  Given the level of turbulence and uncertainty that the last 3-years have brought us, these claims from a pretty rum bunch are a dubious and desperate justifications to say the least.

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for several public bodies, including the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  The UK aviation industry operates essentially without subsidy and so is not a big part of DfT spending.   With Brexit there’s been a leadership problem.  Who speaks for aviation in the UK Government?  On my reckoning there’s been 4 Aviation Ministers in the last 3-years.  That’s not good when it comes to setting policy and strategy.  For one of UK’s foremost industries and under some jeopardy with a No Deal Brexit coming this is not good at all.

Aviation Minister at the DfT From To
Lord Ahmad May 2015 June 2017
Lord Martin Callanan June 2017 October 2017
Baroness (Liz) Sugg October 2017 April 2019
Baroness Vere of Norbiton April 2019 Now




Aviation & Brexit 92

The clock is ticking.

Having studied fatal accidents in aviation, and other industries there’s often several factors that come together to create a catastrophic event.  One of them played a part in the loss of two of NASA’s Space Shuttles.

Everyday complex activities are part of the way we live and work.  Operating aircraft or running a Government requires people to work together in dependable ways often following tried and tested processes and procedures.  Nothing new in that, you might say.  However, it’s an arguable point to say that the level of complexity we face is constantly increasing.

I make no argument for always sticking to the same ways of doing business but only that before changes are introduced it’s wise to do some analysis of the risks involved.  Brexit is no exception.  Some of the risk assessments associated with Brexit don’t make happy reading.  A Whitehall paper outlining the reality of a No Deal Brexit was recently in the news.

One of the most astonishing aspects, at least to me, of the approach of the Johnson Government is the normalisation of the risks associated with a No Deal Brexit.  Risks that in earlier times would have been avoided at all costs are now welcomed.

I believe that this has crept up upon us because it became politically expedient for Conservatives to deviate from what’s normal.  And I mean deviate a long way from what’s normal.  This is incredibly dangerous.  It’s dangerous because initially nothing untoward happens.  Afterall we are talking about a future event, namely 31 October.

This “normalisation of deviance” is what NASA suffered[1].  One day it became expedient to deviate from certain processes and then this became normal.  People became accustomed to the deviation, so they don’t consider it to be deviant anymore.  Then disaster struck.  After the disaster it was difficult to understand why action was not taken to stop and think again.

Our British political or social normalisation of deviance is a pathway to self-harm.  It’s proving hard to get people to stop and think again.  But we must continue to try.