It’s almost unnecessary to say that there’s little time left to secure an EU-UK deal this year. It’s now October. This week, the European Council has a 2-day Special Summit in Brussels. They meet again at a European Council Summit on 15th and 16th of the month. There’s a European Parliament plenary session between 19th and 22nd October too. Each of these is an opportunity to converge on an EU-UK deal, sign it, and ensure it gets ratified.
It might be apparent from my writings, as well as the media reports that the ups and downs of speculation about any potential deal have reached irritating proportions. One week a positive mood, next week a negative mood while progress on resolving Brexit issues continues at a snail’s pace.
In the UK Parliament, the UK Internal Markets Bill has passed on 3rd reading by 340 to 256 votes. Thus, the intention to break the existing Withdrawal Agreement with the EU has been signalled. None of this peculiar negotiating dance seems to make much difference. Extra costs, more red tape and shrinking investment continue to plague the UK economy.
When challenged about the growing Brexit costs, UK Government Ministers just say that’s an inevitable consequence of leaving the EU. There’s no longer any attempt to justify new regulations other than to blame the EU. With the UK planning to break a recently agreed deal, it makes it difficult for Europeans to have trust when ratifying the next one.
The latest joint statement coming from both side of the negotiation is short, but it does hold out hope for a deal. Trouble is that both sides keep saying the “ball” is in the others court.
World-wide aviation continues to be buffeted by the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of jobs hang on the line. Not only that but the hospitality and tourism industries are reeling as the downturn shows no sign of ending.
Recently a quote from Paul Everitt (aerospace trade body) summed up the situation with understatement: “It’s not a happy place for us to be.”
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. 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, we are heading into the most painful time. As the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, 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. 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 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.”
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. 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.
If you take a snapshot of a few hours of air traffic over a couple of days recently there’s a massive drop in air traffic across Europe. This is expected to go down more as repatriation flights complete their tasks. Although some airports are closing there’s still going to be the need to ship vital cargo around so air traffic will not drop to zero as it did ten years ago during the volcanic ash events. However, this time the shut down is going to be longer and covers a lot of the globe. This coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the aviation industry.
Internationally, ICAO has issued COVID-19 calls to Governments, urging better coordination with aircraft operators on air services and the flight restrictions in force. A situation where national Governments all take different actions is only going to increase the pain caused. The coronavirus knows no borders and no politics. It will create economic casualties across all parts of Europe.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that aviation safety depends on highly qualified professionals continuing to work in the most difficult circumstances.
We do see the curse of English exceptionalism as Brexit rumbles on. This is particularly true if the UK crashes out of current arrangements in June. UK Minister Gove wants to continue with UK-EU negotiations when we should be putting all our efforts into defeating the pandemic.
In negotiations, reports are the UK has tabled draft texts outlining separate proposed agreements on subjects that include aviation and transport. The texts are not public, so this is all behind closed doors for now.
The UK has left the European Medicine Agency which at one time was based in London. To me this a wholly unwise thing to have done under the current circumstances. European solidarity can strengthen our ability to win against COVID-19. Even if few politicians are putting that case in the UK Parliament. In fact, the House of Commons (HoCs) has adjourned for the Easter recess and will only next sit on 21 April 2020. Unfortunately, people are mostly thinking nationally and yet this is a global issue.
Wisely, given the crisis the UK CAA has notified a delay in an increase in its scheme of charges. This will be reviewed in June 2020. These will be changed when the long-term UK-EU aviation relationship has been determined.
For decades we (UK) have been interwoven with the EU in an intricate pattern that is complicated and often not well understood even by those who are supposed know. The twists and turns of the last 4-years have brought about a situation where those who say: absolute independence outweighs the risk of being “shackled” to the EU, now govern the UK. The idea of common interests and common solutions to common problems has gone out of the window.
Aircraft are built by experts, tested by experts and flown by qualified experts with exceptional skill and with multiple safety backups. Brexit has been driven by opportunist politicians who persistently distort evidence to support their beliefs with scant regard of the costs or harm done. Thus, the next steps in the Brexit EU-UK negotiations will be as difficult, as difficult as can be imagined. That’s what has indeed happened if reports of this week’s discussions are surveyed.
The UK will withdraw from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) after 31st December. The divorce is a hard one. I can think of a lot of Brits who dedicated enormous amount of effort to European harmonisation who will be turning in their graves.
Yes, it’s true that the road that led to the EASA had its roots in the UK. When I started work at the UK CAA, the offices of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) were based at Aviation House, London Gatwick. The benefit to aviation of having a common code was recognised in the 1980s. Signing of the “Arrangements concerning the Development, the Acceptance and the Implementation of Joint Aviation Requirements” (the “Cyprus Arrangements”) by 24 European States, took place in 1990.
In time, the weakness of the JAA system became apparent in that the common application and interpretation of aviation codes was not so common. The framework of European law was necessary to ensure that there was indeed a level playing field and a high level of aviation safety. In European law, a division of tasks between the EASA and the national aviation authorities was determined. EASA was given the power to carry out legally binding certification tasks, thus overcoming the limitations of the JAA system. The creation of EASA, led to the harmonisation of more existing rules and regulations and greater cooperation in the formation of new rules.
Reversing out of 30 years of progress is a challenging task. Yes, it can be coloured as a bold new era in flourishing rhetorical terms but practically it looks like a knee-jerk reaction. Not only that but the timing is awful. Market turbulence due to the contagious virus is severely impacting aviation. Not only that but the whole process of certificates issued by one authority being automatically accepted by another authority is being questioned because of the Boeing 737 MAX case.
Playing to the crowd with symbols of post-Brexit independence isn’t a wise move. It’s kamikaze.
Although we are in a – more to follow – time, the shape of the future aviation relationship between the EU and UK goes along these lines:
“The Government believes there is mutual benefit in an air transport agreement covering market access for air services, aviation safety and security, and collaboration on air traffic management.”
In other statements the repetitious reference to national sovereignty is peculiar. In case the authors haven’t noticed the UK is no longer an EU Member State. Above and beyond this, over the generations, the UK has signed a parade of international treaties and each one of them pools some degree of sovereignty. Clearly, negotiations on a new treaty will necessitate the same. Even more so because of the proximity of the two parties. One witty journalist has commented: my advice on Brexit: just ignore everything for the next couple of weeks.
The UK will be negotiating with a whole host of States. I wonder how productive all the mischief by unnamed “sources” around Number 10 Downing Street is being viewed by across the rest of the world? The dangerous impression can go abroad that great care should be taken before trusting this recently elected Conservative Government.
Time for some good news. Yes, there is some good news. It underlines a commitment, at a working level to national investments on the aerospace industries beyond Brexit. This week there was an event to launch the “Aerospace Sector Deal – One Year On” report by the UK’s Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP). The AGP is a partnership between the UK Government, industry and others.
The event was hosted at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Wales. In the past its projects have been funded by UK institutions, European Commission and other external bodies, and involve collaboration with research and industrial partners. Such collaborations are of mutual benefit. Let’s hope that no new unnecessary barriers are erected between researchers on either side of the channel.
One sad news to note is that because we are no longer citizens of an EU Member States, British professionals are no longer eligible to apply for jobs in EU Agencies. For example, to get a job at EASA in Cologne you need to be a national of a Member State of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. As written, this excludes the recruiting of UK staff, unless of course that they have more than one passport. So, much for the power of that new blue/black UK passport displayed on the front pages of British newspapers this weekend.
One of the popular illusions that Brexit supporters carried off during the campaigning of the last few years was to persuade people that the European Union (EU) was atypically bureaucratic. A false comparison often suggested that the UK should be more like the US and therefore less bureaucratic. This nonsense did seem to get into the public consciousness. Tabloid newspapers peddled the mirage of complete free trade. Even though it’s, as I say, complete and utter nonsense.
Just a few second of reading the US Federal Register, as I often did in my past roles, quickly shows the complexity of the legal and regulatory processes and structures in the US. Docket No. USTR–2019–0003 a “Review of Action: Enforcement of U.S. WTO Rights in Large Civil Aircraft Dispute” doesn’t make pleasant reading for the EU or the UK. In fact, there’s nothing to choose between how hard these measures hit EU Member States or the UK. Brexit doesn’t exist in this dispute.
The outcome of the review is that there will be an increase in the additional duty rate imposed on aircraft and parts imported from the EU and UK, effective from Wednesday, 18 March 2020. Rightly, the UK’s International Trade Secretary has expressed concern and disappointment. It’s interesting to speculate what this will do to future trade negotiations. This isn’t the zero-tariff world that Brexit supporters promised. In the real world, President Trump’s tariffs are popular amongst his supporter base and it’s an election year in the US.
European manufactures are also concerned and disappointed. The sad aspect of this escalation is retaliation and that it’s likely that the EU will impose tariffs on new large US aircraft later in the year.
My view is that, imposing tariffs on aircraft parts is in no one’s interest and harmful to not just the commercial health of the aviation industry but flight safety and security too.
By the way, on a lighter note US fedearal administrative language is a gem: For purposes of the subheading listed below, the informal product description defines and limits the scope of the proposed action and is intended to cover only a subsection of the subheading.
As in “The Prisoner” the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to have told the UK Prime Minister: I am not a number. The Westminster Village is beginning to look more like The Village in the cult 1960s British TV series. I don’t like being right on such matters. But my last Blog did imply posturing in respect to EU-UK negotiations is the purview of Number 10 Downing Street. No others will be tolerated doing so in this UK Government. We now have populist politicians on both sides of the Atlantic using all the tools of the trade to reinforce their power. The extent to which people support this post-Brexit pathway to the future is extremely questionable. One of my objections is that placing faith in powerful men hasn’t produced good outcomes in history.
Another objection, and more pertinent to the topic of aviation is that a failure to engaging with the complexities that are challenging our societies will just result in lost years of banalities, evasion and superficiality. It’s my firm belief that “Europe”, wherever you put the boundaries, will only continue to be successful in meeting those challenges by encouraging creativity, imagination and innovation but in a stable environment where certain failures can be tolerated. Truly learning from failure has been the stimulus for transformational benefits time and time again.
Now, the UK is not doing well, but neither is the Eurozone’s as GDP increased by only 0.1% in the fourth quarter of last year. Plundering history to wrap us in a wall of nostalgia will do nothing to improve both our economic and environmental quality of life. Focusing on Climate Change is going to require civil aviation to be radical. Incremental progress, at great expense, is often a means to avoid change. I’m sorry to say that has been the record of the Single European Sky (SES) project in Europe. Brexit or no Brexit, it makes little difference in respect of the future of how our airspace is best used. Geographical boundaries are false boundaries when it comes to tackling Climate Change in the air.
Maybe this is a time for the UK to be like the grit in the oysters. Taking everyone’s problem but, in standing outside the constraints of conventional intergovernmental processes being able to bring a fresh look at sustainable aviation. That would be a better way than to grip nostalgia for a golden past. The fundamentals of air traffic management were invented not more than 15 miles from where I’m siting. So, let’s use history, without getting all starry eyed, and jointly build a sustainable future together. EU-UK negotiations need to be open to this prospect.
It’s like the sun rising at high latitudes. Slowly the light starts to emerge. Information on the direction EU-UK negotiations may take is slowly finding its way into the public domain.
The fact is that until the end of this year existing agreements between the European Union (EU) and third countries continue to be applicable to the UK. That’s a great breathing space but it will be a short lived one. Campaigners posturing and saying that a Brexit deal would deliver the: “exact same benefit” as EU membership – well that’s now defunct. This week, political statements see an end to frictionless trade with EU Member States. How much of this new posturing is for the detailed negotiations to come is unclear? Even the roles of those doing the posturing may change as the UK’s Prime Minister (PM) will carry out what is expected to be a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle.
Media talk of an “Australian Model” for post-Brexit arrangements is simply talk of a No Deal Brexit by another name. The language used is aimed at calming those who still shudder at the thought of walking away from the table. In fact, there are long-standing ties between the EU and Australia. There’s a working arrangement between the respective aviation authorities, but it’s limited in scope. In practice, in my experience there’s been good communication between the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia (CASA).
On a completely different subject, but one that impacts aviation and travel markedly, there’s the subject of time. The act of withdrawing from the EU means that the UK doesn’t have to follow its neighbours. In March, last year, the European Parliament voted to stop changing the clocks every year. EU Member States will need to choose to stick to what is now Winter Time or Summer Time.
On Sunday 31 March, I’ll be looking forward to putting my clock forward one hour. But what will we (UK) do in 2021? Will we continue with the same ritual every year or will we join our European colleagues and fix our time? There are industry concerns that variations in the time differences between the UK and EU Member States adds complexity for UK businesses large and small. It certainly would make scheduling aircraft routes more challenging. Maybe this subject will be addressed in any new agreements on air connectivity or maybe not?
The act of withdrawing from the European Union (EU) has been underway for a week. Already there’s considerable confusion over the UK’s longer-term relationship with European Member States. Differences of political opinion are evident over what’s to be discontinued and what not. Hopefully, the next steps are being guided by the Political Declaration (PD) agreed between the EU and the UK in October 2019.
It’s worth noting the reality of the current situation. The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) is a Treaty which governs the terms of the withdrawal of the UK. It will continue to apply, even if there’s a Brexit “crash out” at the end of the year.
Going forward in this period of transition isn’t necessarily reversing the past. That said, the past must be respected. But you might say: why? Let’s stride off into the sunny uplands with a blank sheet of paper in our hands. Unfortunately, that’s like walking into a snowstorm armed with only a tube of toothpaste. My metaphor is about changing aviation rules, regulations and standards.
One aspect of transport systems is their relative long lives. Given that investments in aviation are high, most products are designed and produced to be in service for more than a couple of decades.
Another aspect is the need for parts of the aviation system to interoperate safely with other parts. Landing an aeroplane in Manchester shouldn’t be radically different from landing one in Munich, or Manila for that matter. Fixing one is the same task in any of those cities.
What I’m saying is both European and British rules, regulations and standards must comply with their international counterparts. That doesn’t mean these no scope for differences, but it does put some constraints on what can be practically done, especially in a limited time.
The EU and the UK have set out their opening positions for their future relationship on aviation. For the above reasons and more, I have no doubt that there will be a degree of convergence over the next few months. The cancellation of laws applied during this period of withdrawal can only happen if something viable is put in their place.
Meanwhile aviation organisations are updating their Brexit public information. That said, words like “termination” are avoided because no one knows what the situation will be in 2021.
 The Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.
 A treaty is a formal written agreement entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations.