Meldrew – not by a long way!

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.

The great man is not the origin of the idea that human life can be partitioned into phases. He’s the one who captured the idea in the best poetic of language. 

It was an on the sofa conversation that brought my attention to the “Viewpoint” in the Radio Times. That tells something of my stage in life. Who reads the Radio Times anyway? I don’t as a habit. On this occasion Sue pointed out a short article by Charlie Higson titled: “Old people don’t feel old”. 

I think he hit the nail on the head with that one. The COVID pandemic has brought out the worst in parts of the British media. It’s as if anyone over the age of 60 lives in their slippers, is bent double and hardly ever goes out of the house.  Call it ageism if you like. It’s all over the place.

Yes, I do watch shows about gardening, so the stereotypes are not entirely without foundation.  But just as Charlie says, the notion that people of my age are computer illiterate or never used an App in their lives is downright insulting. After all, for good or ill, we are the generation who invented the digital era.  The silicon revolution happened on our watch. 

It’s true that I often see other mature people acting as grown-ups.  Off the peg at M&S and quoted saying sensible and wise utterances. But I’m convinced that some of that’s a front. Carved to confuse younger people to give them the impression of the possession of superior knowledge. 

I have real difficulty in thinking of myself as over 60. I guess, it’s a stubborn rejection of the images of the over 60s that I had in my head 40 years ago. The world has changed beyond recognition in that time.  The kind of jobs people do, their expectations and what was considered “normal”. 

Next time, I see an advert for retirement flats where the eligibility is for the over 60s, I will speedily pass by in abhorrence.  You will not catch me anywhere near such a place until my 90s. 

So, stop it British media. Stop putting us in the later stages of our seven ages before our time. 

*Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man

#PolicingBill

It’s bad. It’s bad when a Government drafts legislation badly. To put a draft text out there which has a mixture of headlining positive proposals, but also mind-bendingly bad measures is bad politics. I can’t use the word “bad” enough.

Today, the #PolicingBill is being debated in the UK Parliament. The bill is an unparalleled attack on civil liberties. This post-Brexit slide towards authoritarianism under this Conservative Government is dangerous.  The Bill contains the most draconian crackdowns on the right of peaceful protest that any of us have seen in our lifetime.

Protest by its very nature causes a level of disruption. So, if UK legislation makes disruption illegal it effectively bans public and personal protect.  This is shocking. 

This incredibly badly drafted legislation has proposals that look like they were taken directly out of 1984.  10-years in jail for annoying someone, particularly a police officer. This is dangerous politics.

Protest isn’t a gift from given by a generous authority. It’s our fundamental right. It’s our fundamental right to show that we disagree. If this bad bill passes unamended, we will end up with a police state where our civil liberties are eroded in ways that it will be difficult to claw back.

If you don’t believe me then I recommend you read the text of the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill).  See: 59 Intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0268/200268.pdf

You will get 10-years in jail for serious annoyance, serious inconvenience, or serious loss of amenity to a person or even risk of such.

What is a lot of money?

I’m marking a birthday in a few days. Although, I think I will imagine my age as being minus one year. 2020 had some notable moments but if I was asked: would you like to do it again? I’d say: make it ten days and you’re on.  One of the beauties of age is reminiscence. Yes, I can remember a pre-decimalisation England.  Pounds, shillings, and pence were what I was taught at my primary school in a small Somerset village. 

I remember the Callaghan led the Government in 1976 and its financial woes. The Labour government was forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan.  Those turbulent years were a lot of fun for me. The summer of 1976 was magnificent in every way. 

As I started work as an apprentice, unemployment stood at a post-war high and inflation was in double digits. Punk rock was running riot.  England was changing.  It was a dynamic period. 

Although, as a young man I had no interest in it at the time, the way Governments spent money shaped a lot of what was happening.  Money did matter and does matter. It’s the difference between being able to do things and stagnation or recession. 

However, never be deceived. Government spending is not like household spending, as Mrs Thatcher would have had you thinking. For a start, none of us has our own mint. None of us are directly compared with other countries or issue our own bonds. 

So, what are we to make of the apparent calmness expressed over massive Government borrowing and reckless spending? We are in truly unprecedented times. A pound for every time that word was used, and the national debt would be a lot smaller. 

How do we make sense of a 1% pay offer for nurses when they have been so pivotal in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic?  When there’s no evidence that a Government funded Test & Trace made a difference and yet it cost over £30 billion.  To top that, there’s been 130,000 COVID-19 deaths making the country stand out as one of the worst performing of all. 

Are these the new late 1970s? Except for the absence of inflation, and astonishingly low interest rates it does look that way.  But let’s get back to that word: unpresented. I don’t think there’s an analogous situation in my lifetime that might give some clues as to what comes next. 

For the moment, the so called “cockpit of the nation”, the House of Commons seems all but useless given the power of the ruling executive.  Government actions are not held to account. 

The billions spent on the Test & Trace system are a perfect example.  Well over £500 per head of UK population has been spent on this system in a short period.  But few know where the money went or what it bought. There needs to be far greater accountability and transparency. This is an urgent matter. 

Mars flight

I was wondering – is there air on planet Mars? It’s one thing to say is there life on Mars? We’ve been asking that big question of generations. But can we use the word “air”? There’s a thin atmosphere on Mars but can you call it air? The rover that’s there will be listening for sounds in what is 95% carbon dioxide. That kind of atmosphere on Earth would be our worst nightmare.

Let’s look at the definition of that everyday word – air.  Air is the mixture of gases which forms the Earth’s atmosphere and which we breathe.  No way could we breath on Mars.  That gas we depend on, oxygen is down to about 0.1%. Taking that basic definition then Mars does not have “air” in the common sense.

I’m going down this rabbit hole because of the references to Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter that is being prepared for flight. This innovative flying machine has been landed on Mars and is being referred to as a helicopter.  Now, a Helicopter is a heavier-than-air aircraft supported in flight chiefly by the reactions of the air on one or more power-driven rotors on substantially vertical axes[1].

Oh dear, there’s that reference to the air as per planet Earth.  I may be being an aviation pendant, but this could be the time to revisit the definition of helicopter and change the word “air” to “atmosphere”. Afterall, if there’s a gas of sufficent density then flight is possible with the right equipment.

Ingenuity could also be known as a Rotorcraft.  It undeniably has two rotors, so it must be a craft supported in flight chiefly by the reactions of an atmosphere. Since we are entering a new era of aviation as a human built extra-terrestrial vehicle makes a controlled flight for the first time, revisiting definition could be appropriate. 

Then Airworthiness is then better expressed as Flightworthiness. Maybe, Aircraft ought to be Flightcraft. There’s a history here given that a craft that hovers is called a Hovercraft. Which is more important? What it does or what it does it in?

Whatever the nuisances of these internationally used definitions in English, the wonder of this fantastic achievement is not lost on me.  This moment only happens once. The first time the immense challenges of controlled flight on another planet are overcome we are in a new era of aviation. 

Flying in a hostile cold, thin atmosphere will be amazing. Take-off and landing several times will be astonishing.  What magnificent engineering design. Rotors spining at 2400 rpm. This robotic rotorcraft will test the feasility of flying on another world. Imagine what that will open up. From me, all the best good fortune to the team who made this possible. Lift-off and come down in one piece. Looking foward to seeing the pictures.


[1] Annex 8 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation

Flight, Risk & Reflections 17.

One of the harshest years in modern civil aviation history has ended.  Looking for positive news in this New Year takes some effort.  In fact, with the extra lock-down measures and travel banned the situation appears to be getting worse and not better.  Worldwide COVID-19 fatalities have passed 2.1 million[1]. Here in the UK the winter situation is looking grim.  In terms of cases of COVID-19 only US, Brazil, Russia and India have more than the UK.  In terms of fatalities from COVID-19 only US, Brazil, India and Mexico have more than the UK. 

Even in just 3-weeks a lot has been written about Aviation and the new BREXIT EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). Having read many of the public pronouncements available, it’s evident that the complexity of the TCA means there’s a huge amount to be learned and will be learned in its application.  The jury is out as to the level of support that exists for the TCA. 

Here are some useful current references:

  • Brexit advice for travellers:

https://www.abta.com/tips-and-advice/brexit-advice-for-travellers

https://www.iata.org/en/policy/consumer-pax-rights/brexit/

  • Aviation industry comments:

Initial guidance on the draft EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

The ACA Position Paper – EU-UK Trade Agreement 2020.

How the Brexit-deal affects UK/EU air travel and aviation.

How the Brexit-deal affects UK/EU air travel and aviation » AirInsight

How Brexit will Change the Aviation Industry.

GTP Headlines How Brexit will Change the Aviation Industry | GTP Headlines

Consequences of the Brexit Agreement on transport, and especially on aviation.

Consequences of the Brexit Agreement on transport, and especially on aviation – Aviation24.be

Brexit: what the newly announced deal means for aviation.

https://www.gridpoint.consulting/blog/brexit-what-the-newly-announced-deal-means-for-aviation

Solo flight – the UK’s Brexit deal for aerospace assessed.

https://www.aerosociety.com/news/solo-flight-the-uks-brexit-deal-for-aerospace-assessed/

Brexit – will the flying public notice any meaningful difference?

https://www.clydeco.com/en/insights/2021/01/brexit-will-the-flying-public-notice-any-meaningfu

  • Official information:

The UK CAA microsite.

https://info.caa.co.uk/uk-eu-transition/

Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) system. 

https://www.easa.europa.eu/brexit


[1] https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Flight, Risk & Reflections 16.

Worldwide COVID-19 deaths have now topped 1.9 million[1].  Uncertainty continues to cripple civil aviation. The lack of joined-up working across the globe is disappointing to say the least.  Different actions and support package of varying degrees are confusing and inconsistent. Many self-inflicted obstacles have led to aircraft operators burning up cash at an alarming rate. No one denies that the spread of COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges to face all types of transport systems, but governments have created as many problems as they have solved.  Serious concerns about new variants of COVID-19 are leading to additional travel restrictions[2].

Cargo operators and airports are stepping up to distribute the vaccines for COVID-19. Aviation will continue to play a vital role in that distribution[3].

The UK has now left the European Union (EU), and the transitional period has expired.  The UK Government will be publishing UK aviation law (including retained EU law) on the website www.legislation.gov.uk in due course. The new deal that has been struck has several appendixes but overall, it’s quite thin.

EU aviation regulations (hard law) are often accompanied by Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMC), Guidance Material (GM), Certification Specifications (CS) and other technical information (soft law). For the time being the versions of AMC, GM, CSs and other technical information in force on 31 December 2020, remain policy in the UK.  In time one would expect to see a British aviation publication system that maintains these as new national documents. 

Now, the prospect of divergence means that readers should check both national and EU sources to get a full picture of the relevant material for civil aviation in the European region.  At this moment there are no administrative procedures for the harmonisation of technical requirements between the UK and EU.  Fortunately, both parties start from a harmonised position. How long that will last is anyones guess.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement announced on 24 December 2020 (TCA) is one hell of a lot better than the often threatened No-Deal outcome between the parties. However, it’s a long way from the comprehensive aviation and air transport agreement that industry and informed commentators, and indeed the EU-UK Political Declaration said was needed.  The TCA foresees cooperation between the EU and UK, but a lot remains to be done. There’s a great deal of committee work to come. It’s important to continue to stay alert for regulatory changes that are to come.


[1] From Johns Hopkins University

[2] https://www.oag.com/coronavirus-airline-schedules-data

[3] https://twitter.com/A4Europe/status/1346842821064589314?s=20

Flight, Risk & Reflections 15.

A large full moon graced the December sky early this morning. The local park was a picture of frosty ground, joggers and dog walkers, magpies and one or two wrens hopping around as the sun rose.  I looked up and slithers of cloud gave a reddish hew to the eastern sky. I remembered the farmer’s rhyme: Red in the morning, shepherds warning. Also, clear to me was the absence of aircraft streaking across the cold sky.  I’m located only a few miles north of London Gatwick airport.  Last December the same scene would have included aircraft contrails going left and right as morning flights arrived and departed London. 2020 is a year like no other.  In this pandemic year worldwide, deaths now approach 1.8 million. 

The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020.  A Withdrawal Agreement that the UK Government agreed with the EU established a transition period that comes to an end in a couple of days.  I think many people are mighty relieved that the UK and EU reached an agreement in principle on Thursday 24 December 2020. This is about as last minute as it was possible to be in the long negotiations. 

All being well, a new agreement between the EU and UK should start from New Year’s Day, 1 January 2021.  This EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement includes obligations on both parties for air transport and aviation safety. Again, many people will be mighty relieved that these topics are addressed.  In all I’ve written in this blog there’s been much speculation about the road ahead. Now, for the first time in four and a half years we have some indication of what comes next.  Like any long story, it’s not all good and its not all bad. 

There are implications for all aspects of European aviation.  In air transport, UK aircraft operators will not have the freedoms of the past. They may need to restructure to be able to offer comprehensive services to the destinations currently flown. Low-cost operator Ryanair is implementing voting restrictions on company shares owned by non-EU nationals from New Year.

It’s good to see the emphasis on cooperation[1] on aviation safety.  New dedicated committees will look at how to work together in the future.  I hope they work at a technical level and renew cooperation rather than further politicising inter-institutional relationships.  Regulatory duplication and barriers need to be avoided.  Now, practical processes and procedures must make good on the promise of close cooperation. The need to ensure implementation of aviation safety rules and regulations has not diminished.

It’s interesting to note that each party to the agreement may request consultations at any time concerning the safety standards maintained and administered by the other party in areas relating to aeronautical facilities, flight crew, aircraft and the operation of aircraft.  This suggests conditions for dealing with the immediate outcome of aircraft accidents and serious incidents but it’s not explicit.  As I found in the early days of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), from 2004 a lot depends on how the relevant legal texts are interpreted. One small sentence can mean much if the parties choose to make it so.  A deal maybe agreed but this is not done. This is the start of work that can build a successful aviation system.  With good will on both sides this can happen, but it will take a decade of effort. 


[1]The Trade and Cooperation Agreement establishes the following Specialised Committees:……

(b) The Specialised Committee on Air Transport;

(c) The Specialised Committee on Aviation Safety;

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. 


[1] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/12/16/council-endorses-transport-contingency-measures-in-case-of-no-deal-brexit/#

[2] https://www.statnews.com/feature/coronavirus/covid-19-tracker/?utm_campaign=cv_landing

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000qdzd/panorama-the-race-for-a-vaccine

Flight, Risk & Reflections 13.

Last night, chatting about presentations and simple ways of making them better, I was reminded of: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.  It’s ancient advice about how to persuade an audience of a point of view. The importance is to see a place for all three in a presentation. 

Looking at the day’s news, I see we are still on the brink of a deal. Negotiations drag on and on. Both EU and UK give the impression that they are stretching their negotiating mandates to try to come up with a good solution but time is ticking.

Outside of the negotiating room there remains the task of convincing different audiences that a deal is a good one. So, what of the classical three. In the UK, the media and politicians revel in Pathos. It’s almost as if the other two are consigned to be back seat drivers. For Ethos and Logos, objectivity is a must. Being honest means being factual. Arguing rationally means applying the facts.

Unfortunately, there are only a handful of places to go for that objectivity in the British media. So, it does make a difference to read the foreign media.  For some common sense, I recommend the thoughts of Julian King[1], the UK’s last European commissioner.  I agree that everybody stands to lose out with No-Deal.

This week we carry on with a multitude of unknowns. Only one thing is for sure. Life after 31st December will be different[2]

I do wish press articles would not say: “Otherwise, the U.K would have to strike individual agreements with EU countries to bypass these concerns, ……” Striking individual agreements with non-EU countries is what is happening. Striking individual agreements with EU countries will not happen. The reason for this is that for the major areas of interest the EU has competence[3].

It’s worth noting that the harmonisation of civil aviation requirements and procedures started a long time before the formation of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/brexit-the-uk-and-eu-both-need-to-put-aside-emotion-and-cut-a-deal-1.4425580

[2] https://www.politico.eu/article/5-things-to-know-about-post-brexit-aviation-airlines-eu-transition-cargo-travel-passengers/

[3] https://europa.eu/european-union/topics/transport_en

Flight, Risk & Reflections 12.

Ready for anything[1]. It’s a good position to take when no one can predict what might happen next. Such is the uncertainty that prevails. In a month and a bit, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be reverting to where it was when it was formed in the 1970s. All alone. Before 1972, regulation of civil aviation was the responsibility of the Air Registration Board (ARB). The CAA was established as a “modern” arms length regulator to act in the public interest. It did this successfully and drove European cooperation to become influential and highly respected.

Without agreement, being a British traveller, to and from the European Union (EU) after 1 January 2021 will not be much fun, to say the least. That said, the low levels of international travel in prospect, because of COVID-19 might well mask the full impact of new procedures and lost privileges. Although British passports will not command the seamless freedom of movement we have enjoyed for decades, there maybe some travel bargains to be had in the New Year.

Fishing is one of the roadblocks in UK-EU negotiations[2]. It would be immensely sad, and stupid if agreement on 99.9% of the issues fell based on not being able to compromise on fishing.  Aviation has the potential to lift us all out of economic gloom. Fishing will do no such thing. Publicly embracing failure is not a good strategy for a British Prime Minister (PM).

Unfortunately, the Brexit headbangers are still the Brexit headbangers.  These people exert disproportionate influence. Although it maybe politically cynical, the PM has a large majority in Parliament and the EU remains a bogyman to distract the British people from the pandemic pandemonium, so the No-Deal horse continues to run.  That tired nag should have long since been retired.

Where there is incompetence in Government, the official Opposition should be shedding light on it in Parliament. On Brexit, the largest Opposition Party in the UK is just as much in the mire as the Conservatives. Backing a lastminute deal, if negotiations succeed in coming days, maybe their final kick in the teeth to the 48%.

The UK Government is advising domestic businesses that “getting ready takes longer than you think”. Having given close attention to the last 4-years ups and downs, that warning should be applied to any discussion of British political decision-making. The wind and weather change rapidly over the British Isle and so do the ebbs and flows in and around Westminster. So, it does take a long time for a settled state to arise. Stability is much valued by aviation businesses that need to make long-term investments. Being hit by a double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit is destroying otherwise viable aviation businesses[3]. But here we are in November 2020, still waiting for a “moment of truth”. 


[1] https://worldofaviation.com/2020/11/uk-working-to-mitigate-brexit-risks-as-deadline-looms/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-fish/britain-not-accepting-eus-fish-offer-on-brexit-the-sun-idUSKBN2871EC

[3] https://twitter.com/ADSgroupUK/status/1330855509491142657?s=20