Flying, Democracy and Safety 8.

IMG_2082

Halfway through 2020. What a different kind of year than the one we’d expected. With 20-20 hindsight I’m sure we’d have approached it differently too. In that phrase, 20-20 is a reference to good vison but it could equally have been a joke on the year 2020. Now it’s July and Germany’s EU Council Presidency starts. Their theme is: “Together for Europe’s recovery” #EU2020DE[1].

It’s strange that during the years of Brexit debates those who supported it said that leaving the European Union (EU) would mean a break from competition rules to give Britain the opportunity to boost its own industries. What has happened recently has been the complete opposite. In the face of COVID-19, European Governments have been providing support to their aviation sector, but the UK has not provided similar support.

Now, UK Prime Minister Johnson repeats that the UK is ready to walk away without a deal with the EU if no agreement can be reached in what remains of the time available. At the same time, he’s “optimistic” that there’s a “good agreement” to be reached[2].

If the UK exits the mutually beneficial Withdrawal Agreement without a sound long-term deal, the effects will be felt by everyone[3]. With global tensions between many Countries and China continuing to mount, this is foolish.

Here we go again. The UK’s Conservative Government is getting more Brexity as the people of Britain are getting less Brexity. A recent European Social Survey has found support for Brexit has fallen to 35% of voters while a majority would prefer the UK to be in the EU[4].

The aviation sector hasn’t had a good week. Airbus plans to cut 15,000 jobs amid COVID-19 fallout. However, British politicians would rather talk about fishing than aviation. Yet, fishing contributes £1.4 billion to UK economy while aviation contributes £22 billion.

UK Foreign Office travel advice and the national quarantine continue to make it difficult for anyone to plan to travel. Portugal, a Country that the UK has always had excellent relationships with, has been left out in the cold.

The world’s biggest trading block is on the UK’s doorstep.  The bare-bones of a trade deal could happen but making it more difficult to trade with the EU seems unwise to say the least. Again, it has been conformed that the British membership of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will come to an end on 31 December. Historians will look mystified at this period. Governments don’t normally work assiduously to diminish their place in the world.

[1] The programme for is now online on http://eu2020.de.

[2] LBC on Friday, 03 July 2020.

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/e4da78ae-a428-4466-9721-d3841cc0e005

[4] https://ldeg.org/en/article/2020/1366373/survey-finds-35-want-brexit-while-57-back-rejoin

Flying, Democracy and Safety 7.

flag of united kingdom
Photo by Bernadett Varga on Pexels.com

I have no problem with a Union Jack flag adorning an aeroplane. The British Airways (BA) logo and tail flag from 1982-1997 is still missed by many air travellers.  The quarter Union Jack clearly stated what it represented and said it classically, superbly and strongly[1]. This week we saw the tail flag on the UK Prime Minister’s aeroplane, and it looks wrong.  Apparently, it’s explained that the front of the aeroplane is the “flagpole”[2].  Thus, the only time the tail Union Jack flag will be correctly orientated is when the aeroplane is diving towards the ground.  It seems to me that this image doesn’t send a particularly good “national branding” message to anyone who sees it.

Now, any mention of British Airways (BA) on social media is likely to be accompanies by a derogatory comment. BA has put its staff at risk of redundancy. It’s forcing through pay cuts on staff, even though they’re a financially sound company taking advantage of the UK Government’s COVID-19 furlough scheme. On the morning of Wednesday 24 June, a UK House of Commons Transport Committee meeting took place with the star witness being the Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State, Department for Transport. When questioned about the situation it seemed the UK Government is taking the position of a passive observer.

An open UK Parliamentary petition is doing the rounds. It’s calling for the UK Government to support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak. In total, COVID-19 could cost the UK aviation industry up to £20.1 billion in 2020[3]. So far, the UK Government has not offered sector specific help as other European Governments have done so.

Virgin Atlantic Airways is working on a do-it-yourself plan to keep flying. They have given up on sector specific UK Government support for aviation.

It looks as if the UK Government is to rip up its Coronavirus quarantine rules for some returning travellers in move that will at least help. Were it not for the #Brexit transition period, until 31 December, the UK might have been on the EU’s banned Countries list given its national COVID-19 case numbers.

Now let’s look at what remains of Brexit. It certainly is interesting to read that a senior Government Minister is concerned that few UK businesses have prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU single market and customs union[4].  It seems uncharitable to point out that they may be busy addressing other issues. It maybe because people aren’t embracing Brexit with the same enthusiasm as the die-hard supporters in the UK Government. More likely that it’s impossible to drain a swamp when you are up to your eyes in crocodiles. Big COVID-19 crocodiles.

The EU will impose customs controls and checks on goods from the UK from the start of 2021[5].  This is going to be painful for design and manufacturing in the aerospace world. The UK’s growth has already slowed after the 2016 referendum relative to other countries.  Brexit uncertainty has reduced capital investment resulting in lower productivity and output. And all of this was reported before the COVID-19 pandemic[6].

The tragic situation is that, however bad the outcome gets as the year ends, the pandemic will make it exceedingly difficult to estimate the true impact of Brexit on the economy as we go forward. Call me cynical but there’s likely to be UK Conservative Ministers and MPs betting on that situation.

[1] https://www.logodesignlove.com/british-airways-logo-evolution

[2] https://videos.metro.co.uk/video/met/2020/06/25/443726506662150015/640x360_MP4_443726506662150015.mp4

[3] https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/coronavirus-impact-aviation-transport-report/

[4] https://www.cityam.com/michael-gove-concerned-at-how-few-uk-businesses-have-made-brexit-preparations/

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-18/eu-says-it-won-t-ease-customs-controls-on-u-k-after-brexit

[6] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/working-paper/2019/the-impact-of-brexit-on-uk-firms

Flying, Democracy and Safety 6.

space shuttle launch during nighttime
Photo by Edvin Richardson on Pexels.com

One of the News stories of the week was that of UK Prime Minster (PM) Johnson spending £900,000 to paint a RAF transport aircraft with Union flag colours. Red, white and blue. I imagine that money will be spent in the UK. It’s good to see that Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge has reduced the Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) emissions of its huge paint shop[1].

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and decline of air traffic on European aviation has got worse in recent weeks[2].  Rebuilding it will require new measures to be put in place. Now, the aviation industry is nervous that these will be imposed in an uncoordinated way. National quarantines are an example of such measures as they are an impediment to recovery especially when they are introduced on political grounds. There’s quite a lot of that going on at the moment.

UK PM Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, were in communication last Monday[3]. There was much talk of giving the on-going UK-EU negotiations new momentum. We are told, people are searching for agreeable compromises. The real possibility of a collapse in the talks remains, with some speculation that this would be exploited to distract from criticism over the UK Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a taster of what the ratification of any new agreement might involve, a report has been published by the European Parliament (EP)[4] with recommendations on the negotiations for a new partnership with the UK.  This report does have a few mentions of civil aviation, notably:

  1. Considers that the envisaged partnership should include an ambitious and comprehensive chapter on air transport which ensures the EU’s strategic interests, and contains appropriate provisions, on market access, investment and operational and commercial flexibility (e.g. code sharing) in respect of balanced rights and obligations, and should include close cooperation in aviation safety and air traffic management;
  2. Stresses that any possible granting of some elements of the so-called ‘fifth freedom’ (freedom of the air) should be limited in scope and needs to include balanced and corresponding obligations in the interests of the EU.

Even though this has been rejected by UK Government Ministers, the EP continues to support the participation of the UK as a “third country” observer with no decision-making role in the EU’s Agencies, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Also, the EP still wishes to see UK’s continued participation in the Single European Sky (SES) and technology initiatives like: Clean Sky I and II, Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), Galileo, Copernicus and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS).

Today, the indications are that the UK Government has rejected such technical participation. However, it does seem that one or two plans are being changed as we go. It’s reported that the UK is scaling back plans for rival to Galileo satellite system[5]. Ambition is being shaped by practicalities.

Whatever is the case, it’s certain European civil aviation will use both Galileo and EGNOS in advanced forms of navigation and surveillance. The future is being made, tested, and put into service as we speak.

[1] https://marshalladg.com/insights-news/marshalls-clean-air-unit-paints-an-even-cleaner-picture

[2] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/airlines-lessors/pandemic-impact-european-aviation-worsening-iata-says

[3] https://www.cer.eu/insights/eu-uk-negotiations-no-need-panic-yet

[4] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2020-0117_EN.html

[5] https://www.ft.com/content/50c3b6dc-2d2f-4bb4-aa9b-b24493315140

Flying, Democracy and Safety 5.

jet cloud landing aircraft
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

4-years ago on Magna Carta Day in the small Surrey town of Egham, I was campaigning to stay in the European Union (EU).  On 11 June 2016, when referring to the UK referendum, I said: “I’d like to estimate that the overall experience indicated a better than 50/50 outcome is on the cards.” Meaning that remaining in the EU was a likely outcome of the UK referendum but only by a small margin of votes. As we know it went the other way by a small margin of votes.

In the whole of history, 4-years isn’t much, a blink of an eye, but in that time the UK’s political, social and economic landscape has changed by quite a lot.  I’d argue that it has changed for the worse and that huge opportunities have been thrown away because of dogma, groupthink and a blindness to the reality.  If we’ve learnt anything in those years, it’s that when a UK politician says something is certain it’s likely to be far from certain.

Despite all the rocky road and ups and downs of 4-years, no one was adequately prepared for a transformation that nature threw at us. The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in modern times.

UK economic growth fell by over 20% in April, the largest fall since monthly records began. Aviation has been hit hard. It’s said that at least 70,000 jobs are on the line in the UK aviation industry[1]. There are pleas for the UK Government to act to protect jobs and support the long-term viability of the sector. Many other Countries have stepped in to support their industries.

Although a slight recovery of air traffic is underway[2], we are heading into the most painful time. As the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme[3], or furlough scheme closes to new entrants, so industry layoffs are likely to increase. Businesses are reorganising to stay alive during an extended period of low demand for air travel. It’s going to be grim for at least the next year.

I’m optimistic for the long-term future of air travel. I always find it surprising that only about 5% of the world’s population have ever stepped foot on an aircraft, even now. I think, wanderlust is set in our core. Just as the low-cost operators made it possible for today’s young people to explore more than previous generations, so I don’t think they will wish to give that up. Aviation shrunk the globe and it will continue to do so.

But what of UK politics? The transition agreed as part of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, ends on 31 December this year. The agenda for the second meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has been published[4]. This key meeting takes place on Friday 12 June.

The UK is saying that it will not ask for an extension to the current transition period. This flies in the face of what business and industry wants. This seems to be illogical given the combination of the circumstances of COVID-19 and an abrupt termination of the WA.

I believe most of the arguments against extending the transition period are either tribal Party political or bogus or both. The reality is that more time is needed. The reality is that ratification of any new deal will need time. The reality is that brinkmanship doesn’t deliver good results. The OECD[5] is saying of the UK: “The failure to conclude a trade deal with the European Union by the end of 2020 or put in place alternative arrangements would have a strongly negative effect on trade and jobs.”

That is not a state of affairs to be welcomed.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/10/airline-job-losses-could-be-on-scale-of-1980s-mining-industry-report-warns

[2] https://twitter.com/eurocontrolDG/status/1271135184562380800?s=20

[3] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/brexit_files/info_site/provisional-agenda-for-the-second-meeting-of-the-joint-committee-12-06-2020.pdf

[5] https://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/

Flying, Democracy and Safety 4.

IMG_1879It’s possible that a gradual recovery in air traffic is slowly starting to take shape across the globe[1]. Individual Countries, businesses and industries are in dire situation and long-term plans are being dramatically changed. However, if the whole air transport sector is considered, there’s reason to think that a recovery from the shock of COVID-19 is in its infancy[2].

This week, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council adopted a report and recommendations designed to restart international air transport and aligning its recovery[3]. It’s good to see international efforts to work together are baring some fruit.

This week, when reading comments on social media its almost as if a section of the population has disconnected from the facts. The facts are that Brexit has been delivered. It happened on 31 January 2020.  Ever since that date people, governments and businesses have been consumed with the difficulties of responding to COVID-19.  Nevertheless, as of the end of this year the UK is a “Third Country” in respect of the European Union (EU).

To everyone’s benefit, a period of transition was established to enable a new relationship to be defined between the UK and EU. Now, the original period defined for the transition is inadequate given the unforeseen change in circumstance that has occurred. In a purely objective, rational, and reasonable world there’s not much to argue against the need to extend the transition period to do a good job of negotiation between former partners. Sadly, what’s rational and reasonable and the political climate of the times are directly opposed to each other.

UK Government Ministers pretend that there’s ample time available to reach a new UK-EU agreement. However, listening to Conservative MPs in the House of Commons its clear they are still fighting the battles of 1993[4]. Atypical Eurosceptic speeches are followed by a degree of paranoia that’s difficult to comprehend given that the UK has left the EU. The UK Government says it will not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020 and this is enshrined in UK law.

So, what happens in such situations? This week, there’s been further disappointments as both UK and EU negotiators indicate little progress has been achieved.

It’s clear the EU won’t compromise on the principle that a Country will not enjoy the benefits of belonging to the EU once it’s no longer a member.

It’s clear the UK continues to cite independence and sovereignty as if these are inviolate. As if the UK had never been an EU Member State for 40-years.

What happens in such situations? If divorces are anything to go by then a protracted period of bitterness and recrimination with little or no compromise on either side. Years of unproductive waste that only water under the bridge can cure.

Yet, all we hear is Panglossian optimism about everything coming together in October.

A No Deal outcome may seem counterintuitive to me, but it’s not for those who have desired such an outcome for the UK-EU talks from the start. There’s a certain political thinking that disruption per-se is good. That if the UK is to leap forward to the “industries of future” it’s exactly what is needed, whatever the overall costs.  This is a brutal philosophy, but some people genuinely believe that the UK can deregulate and become super-competitive overnight.

I suspect, to the benefit of the UK, leverage might have been possible if COVID-19 had not occurred. Now, the problem is that the UK has performed badly in response to the virus. At the same time, the EU’s focus has moved to its economic recovery during the next budgetary period. One looks to its shoes the other to the skies.

Negotiating a new partnership between the UK and EU was never going to be easy. Where we are at this moment, Panglossian optimism seems entirely misplaced.

[1] https://twitter.com/AireonLLC/status/1265271791074906118?s=20

[2] https://twitter.com/OAG_Aviation/status/1268123362041217026?s=20

[3] https://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/ICAO-Council-adopts-new-COVID.aspx

[4] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5801/cmagenda/ob200604.htm#_idTextAnchor005

 

Flying, Democracy and Safety 3.

berlin eu european union federal chancellery
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Recent events have shown that there isn’t much point in pretending that there’s going to be a win-win outcome for the on-going UK-EU negotiations. The UK Government’s perception of independence overrides all other considerations, no matter how costly this view. I believe, independence shouldn’t mean isolation. Two independent parties should be able to work together, share common goals and depend on each other. Sadly, the kind of independence the UK Prime Minister (Conservatives Party Leader) has in mind is a form of superior isolation from former allies and partners.  His success last December has nailed his flag to the colours of a rump that controls his political Party.

In my experience, for something major to happen at a Governmental level there must be a political will in favour of that thing. If people try hard enough, there’s always reasons that can be found not to do something or to rubbish alternatives. Even if it means rejecting something beneficial and driving down a dead end.

In the 1990s, I saw this phenomenon in local Government. The creativity of responding, deployed when those in power fundamentally don’t want to do something, can be energetic and surprising. The effort used can exceeds the effort of going through with even a modest measure. It can be blinkered NIMBYism, it can be protecting vested interests or it can be resisting climate change action. Certainly, it’s not an objective or rational discussion that takes place in these cases.

As indicators of the current collective will of the UK Government, I cite the following:

  • The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been setting the rules for flying during the COVID-19 pandemic[1]. Continuing to fly in Europe will mean adherence to measures established by the EU and its Agency.  Yet, there’s no UK Governmental desire to have a membership of that organisation. Thus, exerting influence will be no better than that available to any “third-country”.
  • Late in the COVID-19 pandemic, introducing a 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving in the UK will significantly damage both UK aviation and UK tourism. Other options could have been deployed. Introducing a track and trace procedure for arrivals would have been more proportionate to the risks. Especially for arrivals from Countries that have an R number lower than that of the UK.
  • Unmovable on one playbook, to one man and to one view of the world. There is growing national exceptionalism as the arguments of those who compare UK’s recent performance with other Countries are ignored. Informed comment and technical alternatives are sidelined as being Party poltical.
  • Populists have been expressing the view that making an extension to the UK-EU talks impossible will concentrate the minds of those on mainland Europe. A conditional extension to the transition period is unlikely to be considered. It’s all or nothing. Thus, some people believe that this will focus minds for an autumn showdown. Even given that this strategy has a poor track record.

The next round of Brexit talks begins on Monday, 1 June. This is the final round of UK-EU negotiations before the Summer. From July to December 2020, Germany’s will have the presidency in the Council of the European Union (EU). It’s reported that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis will be the priority of the German presidency[2].  Recovery is the number one. Brexit is not at the top of the list.

[1] https://www.easa.europa.eu/aviation-industry-charter-covid-19

[2] https://www.bmvi.de/EN/The-Ministry/Germany-EU-Council-Presidency/germany-eu-council-presidency.html

Flying, Democracy and Safety 2.

gray airplane illustration
Photo by Alex Powell on Pexels.com

In a Century, our response to dangerous viruses has changed dramatically.  The context in which a pandemic takes place has changed dramatically too. World population in 1918 was an estimated 1.8 billion[1]. Rather different from the current global population of about 7.5 billion.

Flying was in its infancy in 1918. In the inter-war period, the technology of flying was advancing rapidly. I’ve been listening to #TwentyDays, an online celebration of the 90th anniversary of aviator Amy Johnson’s flight from England to Australia[2]. She became the first solo woman to fly from Croydon to Darwin.  It’s a fascinating travelogue that reminds us that the world pre-WWII was a completely different place.

It was expected that 2020 would set a record for the number of scheduled airline passengers to about 4.7 billion. Now, that is certainly impossible. Most of the world’s civil aircarft are parked. Again, the world is in flux.

The number of CORVID-19 deaths worldwide is 335,993 according to Johns Hopkins University. Yes, this is a long way from the global shock of the largest pandemic in history (1918-20) but it is changing everything.

Daily the news is saddening for those who have made their lives in aviation. Jobs are going in every sector but most particularly manufacturing and aircraft operations. UK company Rolls-Royce[3] plans to cut around 9,000 jobs in response to a drop off in demand. Aviation is completely consumed with the consequence of the CORVID-19 pandemic. British Airways’ owner, IAG, has made a decision to make 12,000 staff redundant.

The future of air travel has transformed in a matter of a few months. For anyone travelling in these challenging times the rules applicable are changing almost daily. In Europe, for most aviation organisations preparations for the end of the transition phase for the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) have been put on the back burner.

Last Monday, the penultimate round of negotiations between the UK and the EU took place[4]. Officials and commentators on both sides are becoming increasingly doubtful a deal can be done in the time allotted[5]. Not only that but a strange exchange of letters has taken place between the two negotiating parties[6]. Both parties are defending their interests, so it seems strange that such negative grandstanding is taking place.

If looking for some good news, from the point of view of transparency, the “DRAFT WORKING TEXT FOR AN AGREEMENT ON CIVIL AVIATION SAFETY BETWEEN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE EUROPEAN UNION” are now made public. The UK’s draft negotiating document makes interesting reading.

 

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/spanish-flu-largest-influenza-pandemic-in-history

[2] http://amyjohnsonartstrust.co.uk/

[3] @RollsRoyce

[4] https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu/britain-eu-start-penultimate-round-of-talks-before-key-deadline-idUKKBN22N0VF

[5] https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-05-07/europe-aviation-still-facing-uncertainty-brexit-talks-stall

[6]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/886168/Letter_to_Michel_Barnier_19.05.20.pdf

Flying, Democracy and Safety 1.

woman in white face mask
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 10

blur cartography close up concept
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Now, the topic for writers is what will the new normal look like for civil aviation, and everything else for that matter. That’s the new normal post-COVID-19. Inevitably there’s a great deal of expert speculation wrapped-up in such writings. Without a tried and tested way out of the different national lockdowns there’s a fair degree of guess work going on. That said, public support for the lockdowns remains high, but beneath this, people are having quite different lockdown experiences.

The first recognition of Europe Day was by the Council of Europe in 1964. On Tuesday, the Council of Europe[1] turned 71-years-old. Its 47 Member States are dedicated to the protection of Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law.  Its work is more relevant now than it has ever been. Especially, when on Friday, we recognise the sacrifices that were made during the World Wars. Many people will be marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day[2] in their homes as the coronavirus outbreak prohibits public gatherings.  History is clear, supporting a strong relationship between the UK and Continental Europe is essential for all our futures.

Also, this week trade talks between the UK and US have kicked-off. This maybe a big mistake having not completed negotiations with the European Union (EU) and during the COVID-19 crisis. Defeating the pandemic should be the UK Government’s sole focus for months to come. At the moment, there’s a lack of seriousness coming from Westminster.

Initially, the UK Government downplayed the risks of COVID-19 but now the world has succumbed to the reality of the pandemic. Trying to fix international relationships covering most of the UK’s trade and travel at a time of great turmoil is unwise. The unprecedented economic and social challenges posed by COVID-19 means we could lock ourselves into arrangement that subsequently turn out to be detrimental but fixed.

In the UK, the Pilots’ Union is saying that civil aviation is in a “death spiral”[3]. This language may seem emotive but there’s good reason for it given the downsizing that aircraft operators are planning. Job losses are certain. A smaller industry will result.

Last year, a part of the Article 50 EU withdrawal process was the possibility of a No-Deal Brexit which in the end both parties avoided. That was a temporary respite. This year, there’s another deadline in prospect; the end 31 December 2020. Last time the brinkmanship practiced produced an agreement but there was no global downturn in progress.  This time is a billion times different. Brinkmanship is not the right formula in 2020.  It’s plain foolish and reckless.

[1] https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal

[2] Victory in Europe Day on 8 May.

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/coronavirus-uk-flights-airlines-aviation-pilots-union-a9498766.html

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Relationship with the EU Committee

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

 

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

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

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

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

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