Aviation & Brexit 82

So, what happened on Sunday when the #EUelections2019 result became public?  Professor Sir John Curtice[1] sums it up for me:  “Far from providing a clear verdict, the result simply underlined how difficult it is likely to be to find any outcome to the Brexit process that satisfies a clear majority of voters.”  Yes, last week most British voters backed political parties that support staying in the European Union (EU) but that’s not enough to bring the whole process to a conclusion.  Now, as Brexit, and the disruption of Brexit get caught in an infinite loop, we must remember that the rest of the world continues to advance with every other matter of interest.   For example, the competitiveness of the aviation industry depends upon having common agreed rules.   Developing and implementing those rules is the way we build the future.

Big on my aviation news last week was the adoption of legislation on Drones in Europe[2].  One of outputs in the European Commission’s Aviation Strategy for Europe is the technical requirements for Drones.  These new rules apply to both professionals and those flying Drones for leisure in the EU Member States[3].  By 2020, Drone operators will need to be registered with national authorities.  That will be simple for mass-produced Drones and proportionally more detailed for larger Drones.

Currently, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is running a consultation on a proposed charge for a new drone registration scheme that it is intended will become UK law at the end of November 2019.  The EU rules will replace existing national rules in EU Member States, but in a “No-Deal” post-Brexit UK the national rules will continue to be applicable.   I expect these rules to, for the most part, remain similar in their aims and objectives but there’s no doubt they are set in a different context and use different legal language.  Next, the European Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will publish further guidelines.  It will be thought-provoking if those operating guidelines are not adopted by the UK.

In fact, the UK will be under pressure to adopt the rules on Drones.  Mainly because any Drone operators that has their principal place of business, are established, or reside in a Third Country, will need to apply the EU Regulations if they wish to operate within the Single European Sky airspace.

The US FAA is serious about the business of Drones.  A major conference is coming up and the aganda includes EASA.  This is a postive message for US- EU cooperation.  The successful certification and implementation of what’s being called “urban air mobility” is going to need a great deal of international working.

Key to operating safely and making a commercial success of a business using Drones will be having products and processes that can operate in a wide spectrum of environments and interoperate with others.   Innovators across Europe will be looking use Drones for more and more applications as the technology develops.  In time complex drone operations with a high degree of automation may become as day-to-day as mobile phones are to our lives.   Now, the EU has achieved this initial aviation milestone where we go next is up to the imagination.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Curtice

[2] European Commission adopted EU rules (Implementing Act Drones & Annex to Implementing Act Drones) to ensure increasing Drone traffic across Europe is safe and secure for people on the ground and in the air.

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/initiatives/2018drones_en

Aviation & Brexit 81

It’s about a month ago since I last wrote.  This has been a busy month.  European Parliamentary elections took place on Thursday in the UK.  The results of those elections will not be known until late on Sunday.  A long process of local and regional counting will take up most of Sunday.  What it will mean in the UK is still unclear but at least these were real votes in real ballot boxes.   The outcome of which should be a sound indication of the current public mood.

The UK is now in the position where if it ratifies the existing EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA) before 31 October 2019, an EU withdrawal will take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedures.  However, there are no signs that national ratification is on the cards.  The UK’s two largest political parties have given-up on negotiations to come to a compromise on Brexit.  This should be no surprise since a deal between the Conservatives and Labour would still have to pass the through a grid-locked House of Commons (HoC).  A compromise involving the UK staying in a Customs Union (CU) is more than the hard core Brexit supporting Conservatives can accept.  Now, as if the above wasn’t enough, the UK’s Prime Minister is stepping down.  A starting gun has been fired on a that leadership race and it’s unlikely to be helpful to any potential political compromise.

The Brexit stasis continues to have a pressing and disruptive impact on the aviation and travel industries.  Recently, the travel firm Thomas Cook reported a £1.5bn loss for the first half of the year[1].  Behind this were several factors but one of the bigger ones was potential customers putting off their summer holiday plans.

With Brexit delayed until later this year, the UK is exporting people.  Now record numbers are applying for Irish passports[2] and that may give a boost to aviation in Ireland.  As an indicator, I’ve had a conversation with a person prepared to relocate his businesses if Brexit remains unresolved.

In the technical regulation arena, the objective would seem to be to maintain as much continuity as possible[3].   Our international rules-based system assumes that Countries will work together to improve conductivity.   But the situation remains fluid between the UK and EU, and there are still big questions to answer before we reach 1 November 2019.

The power-play going on between US and China is not a good background in which to continue with the uncertainty of Brexit.   The UK should be defending multilateralism in this situation.  A choice needs to be made since the UK’s aviation future need not shift from an influential rule-maker into a rule-taker.  In this region, retaining membership of EU Agencies, like EASA remains a viable option.

Brexit is now in a go / no-go position.  I’m more of the opinion that the project must be terminated and quickly.  Even if it is not, close alignment with the EU still has major benefits.   Is there the political vision in the UK to steer Brexit to a conclusion?  It’s going to be well into July 2019 before we even have a hint as to the answer to that question.   3-years since the UK referendum and its only uncertainty that is certain.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48292318

[2] https://www.irishpost.com/news/how-to-get-irish-passport-166453

[3] https://ebace.aero/2019/news/latest-news/ebace2019-session-looks-at-impending-brexit/


Aviation & Brexit 80

It’s a week ago since I last wrote.  It’s been the week of Easter.  Politicians took time off and the news cycle found new stories to cover including exceptionally warm weather.   In terms of progressing towards a solution to the Brexit crisis nothing much happened.  Or at least nothing much happened in public.

Brexit continues to be a lose-lose proposition.  On both sides of the Channel the impasse rattles on.  All the energy absorbed by Brexit has weaken the economies of both the UK and the Continent.  CNN[1] recently reported that its China that is the big winner from Europe’s Brexit chaos.  That could well be the case, if not in the short-term then certainly in the longer term.

The European Parliament (EP) is now in recess until after the European elections at the end of May.  The new EP will be in place in July.  A new European Commission will be appointed.

This means UK holidaymakers will have to make a leap of faith if they are booking a beach holiday on the Continent this summer.  Since Brexit is delayed, but that could be cut short the assumption may be made that conditions remain; business as usual at least for a bit longer.

Since the referendum was first called in 2015 the UK pound (£) has fallen from roughly 1.4 Euro to the £ to its current rate of around 1.15 Euro to the £.   UK holidaymakers will need to take this into account when booking packages.  In all cases measures to keep aircraft flying will be in place but there’s a strong likelihood that higher fares and less choice are on the cards.

As a highly regulated industry the importance of what happens to regulatory relations matters a great deal.  Aviation cannot prosper without a mature and stable framework within which to operate safely.  All the international evidence points in that one direction.

The UK played a major part in the formation of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), but it would seem to be stepping aside.  Regardless of what the UK does, EASA’s tasks within the EU-27 and its 4 associated countries will continue uninterrupted.   The UK’s possible withdrawal puts it in a difficult position with diminished influence.  Any withdrawal will significantly alter EASA’s cooperation with UK authorities.  Even in this peculiar situation there may still be a re-think but just now nothing remains untouched.

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/27/europe/china-europe-brexit-italy-bri-intl-gbr/index.html


Brexit & Aviation 76

History gives us a context within which to set current events.  Rooting through some boxes, I came across a copy a UK CAA Safety Regulation Group in-house publication called “Aviation Standard” dated March 1991.  I kept it because it had a picture of me as a newly joined young airworthiness surveyor.  At the time the aviation industry was suffering the effects of recession and the Gulf War.  Pressure was on to keep fees and charges low but not to let up on essential safety activities.

What’s interesting is that 28 years ago the news was that the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) Headquarters was to move from London Gatwick to Hoofddorp, near Amsterdam Schiphol.  The 18 JAA Countries had decided to move from sharing office space with the UK CAA at London Gatwick to a new building in the Netherlands.

The staff newspaper had a large page describing the work of the CAA’s Systems and Equipment Department.  At that time, the department that I joined had 22 specialist design surveyors and supporting admin staff.  There were 5 technical specialist sections, addressing hydromechanical, cabin safety and environmental systems, power plant installation and fuel systems, and electrical and avionics.   This department covered all types of aircraft large and small, helicopters, airships and even hovercraft.

Contrary to the belief of some people, The UK has played a major part in shaping how aviation safety regulation developed in Europe.  What we have is as the result of concerted efforts over more than a generation.  It saddens me greatly to think that we are in the process of trying to dismantle that achievement.  An achievement that is recognised worldwide.

Back to the current challenge of Brexit and how it’s being exacerbated by political indecision and pure folly.  New Aviation Safety legislation has passed into European law ready to come into force if there’s a No-Deal Brexit.   The effects of this law are to create a breathing space so that companies can re-establish the approvals they need to operate.

Also, a new UK Aviation Safety Statutory Instrument (SI) was passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and published as UK law.

The UK industry group; ADS has published a useful summary that is available on their website[1].  No doubt this will be updated as we discover if the planned leaving date of either 12 April 2019 or 22 May 2019 is to happen, or Brexit gets cancelled or delayed again.  Whatever UK Parliamentarian do it doesn’t seem the No-Deal Brexit outcome has yet been killed off for sure.

[1] https://www.adsgroup.org.uk/blog/no-deal-brexit-and-the-state-of-preparatory-aviation-safety-legislation/


Brexit & Aviation 74

It’s a good question to ask.  Will cooperation, coordination and convergence end with Brexit?[1]

An instant answer might spring to mind dependent upon your position with respect to Brexit.  Rather let’s look at the subject in more depth.  In my experience aviation safety regulation operates on 3-levels.  Each level is essential even though, from time to time, one may think itself superior to another.   Between the 3-levels there are dependencies.

  • One is political. No surprise.  Lawmakers are responsible for the high-level policy and the framework of law necessary to make regulation possible.
  • Another level is administrative. As is often said: the devil is in the detail.  Well crafted laws need to be drafted by creative people who know enough about both legislative and technical matters.
  • Of my 3-levels, the last one I mention, but it could have been the first, is the technical Without technically competent expertise the whole enterprise can be built on sand.

So, when asking what could happen to cooperation, coordination and convergence, I must address all 3.  There’s some freedom of movement but all the above need to comply with the standards set down internationally by ICAO.

In the event of a No Deal Brexit outcome the prospect of major disruption is real and should not be underestimated.  To my 3-levels there will be a shock to the system.  At the political level mutual trust will have to be re-established.  At the administrative level new processes or procedures maybe put in place.  At the technical level it’s less clear what new working arrangements may be needed.

Whatever happens with Brexit the laws of aerodynamics will not change.  The factors that cause accidents will not change either.   And airworthiness directives will continue to be issued.

Making a regulatory system work efficiently and effectively doesn’t happen overnight.  Prolonged efforts must be applied and sustained.  One or two big events can upset priorities very quickly.

Back to Brexit. Whatever those who sold the separation may have said, Brexit is sowing the seeds of disharmony.  Once the decoupling of plans has started so the drivers for action change too.

No surprise but this is significant in respect of the UK.  Historically, in the drafting of law and associated instruments (advice, guidance, notices and so on) there’s a tendency to reserve some arbitrary powers for those implementing the text[1].  EU law tends to be structured in a hierarchical manner with high-level objectives at the top and considerable detail at the lower levels.

In the last 25 years of European aviation regulatory harmonisation these two approaches have been blended.  When it works, people get the best of both worlds.  Unfortunately, Brexit is a divergence that has lack of certainly at its heart.  Several free marketers see a more arbitrary approach as a way of getting around the public interest whenever it suits them to do so.  Thus, cooperation, coordination and convergence between the EU and UK may not end with a big bang but a slow drift.

[1] In the early 90s, for applicants for approval, the need to “satisfy” a UK CAA Surveyor in the interpretation of notices and requirements was often wide ranging.

[1] https://www.mro-network.com/maintenance-repair-overhaul/



There is a buzz in the media about commercial pilots’ licences.

It’s almost as well to start with the question: why do pilots need a licence?  The roots of pilot licencing go to the earliest days of flying.  Quickly it was realised that specific attitudes, skills and knowledge were essential to be able to fly safely.  To start with licences were not mandatory.  That changed markedly when civil aviation became commercial.  The need for mandatory licencing was well established in the 1940s when the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) came into being.

Today, Article 32 “Licenses of personnel” of the Chicago Convention is clear:

  1. a) The pilot of every aircraft and the other members of the operating crew of every aircraft engaged in international navigation shall be provided with certificates of competency and licenses issued or rendered valid by the State in which the aircraft is registered.
  2. b) Each contracting State reserves the right to refuse to recognize, for the purpose of flight above its own territory, certificates of competency and licenses granted to any of its nationals by another contracting State.

Today, the EU Basic Regulation and its implementing rules apply in the UK.  Today, we have a harmonised system with mutual recognition in 32 European States[1].  We respect and recognise each other’s pilot licences.

Tomorrow, post March 31, 2019, the EU Basic Regulation will not apply in the UK[2].  Tomorrow, UK law may be a straightforward copy of the exiting EU law.  At that time mutual recognition is not guaranteed unless an agreement is in place.

So, EU will need to decide – will it recognise a National licence from a “third country” that uses the “same” rules?  Will any recognition be dependent upon rules continuing to be harmonised?  What level of standardization auditing will maintain confidence that the system works?

I can’t answer these questions (yet).

POST: It’s 3-years on from this posting. A licencing imbalance has prevailed during that time. As of 1 January 2023, the UK will cease to recognise EASA-issued licences and certificates for the operation of UK (G-registered) aircraft. Whatever happened to hopes for mutual recognition? Pilot licensing | BALPA

[1] Licences issued by the National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) according to a set of common rules applied by the European Aviation Safety Agency, known as EASA – Flight Crew Licensing (EASA-FCL).

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/transport/sites/transport/files/legislation/brexit-notice-to-stakeholders-aviation-safety.pdf