Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 1

The UK flag has been taken down at the European Union (EU) Council building in Brussels.  This is one of the actions that marks Brexit.  After almost 50 years of EU membership and 3 years of acrimony over the vote to leave, the UK has formally left the EU.  Now, the EU and the UK enter a transition period during which detailed talks take place[1].   The transition period is due to end on 31 December 2020.  So, time is short, and ambitions are high.  If there’s a pragmatic upside to these events, it does make it more difficult for national politicians to use the EU as a scapegoat.  That said, given the propensity to use blame as a way of avoiding accountability then no doubt a new target will be found.

As we enter what will be another frantic period, both parties to the EU-UK negotiations are setting out their shop windows.  The consequences of this, is that, and so on.  What’s unusual about these negotiations is that there are two parties start with free trade and a level playing field but talk of erecting barriers as they go.  Usually, it’s the other way around whereby the aim of detailed negotiations is to remove barriers.  To any dispassionate observer this does seem to be wacky.

In the aviation sector, will the UK continue to participate in the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) systems and comply with European regulations?   In the short-term there’s time for a transition but a transition to what in 11 months?  In the long-term, a relationship on aviation is to be determined but what are the aims and objectives?

Based on my experience of setting up a new international Aviation Agency, I’d make the following simple recommendations:

  • Recognise that aviation regulation is both social and technical. The political domain must heed the technical and vice-versa.  The public demand mutual respect.
  • Respecting aviation’s legacy at the same time as being innovative in regulation requires a deft touch. Products have long lives and technology advances rapidly.  Avoid excessive prescription accepting that some is necessary.  Be clear about performance objectives.
  • Treat all 3 of these capabilities as equally important, being: Reactive, Pro-active and Prognostic. The first inevitable because the last is imperfect.  Day-to-day the most important is what you are doing – now.
  • Big or small, the Boardroom and the shop floor have equal importance. Top-down: safety is number one.  Bottom-up: actions directly impact safety.  Never create too many complex layers between these two parts of an organisation.
  • Don’t take on more actions than your regulatory system of processes and procedures can work effectively.  Trying to satisfy everyone ends in disappointment.  Trying to sweep concerns under the carpet ends in tragedy.
  • Embrace new knowledge but don’t become allured by aggressive marketing. Verification and validation can’t be skipped just because of the confidence of the promoter.

There’s much more that can be said but the six items above come to mind.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership_en

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For the British politician the 31st January 2020 is a big event.  For most people in employment, the Brexit confusion and uncertainty continues at least for another 11 months.  Social Media is a good indication of the conversations people in aviation employment are having.  One question raised yesterday has been raised many times: After Brexit will the EASA licences that were obtained in the UK still be valid? 

Despite the name, these mandatory licences are not issued by EASA in Cologne but issued by European Union (EU) Member States applying European rules.  National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) have this responsibility.  The European system requires EASA and the NAAs to work together.   In order to get an EASA Part-66 AML (Aircraft Maintenance License), an applicant needs to show a basic knowledge in relevant aviation subjects.

Having common rules throughout EASA Member States means that they accept an EASA licence that is granted by one of those States.   In addition, States across the globe, who have a relationship with the EU can choose to accept an EASA licence.   That’s what happens in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where most of the world’s Airbus A380 aircraft are based, for example.

So, the EU and the UK are entering a transition period during which UK aviation will continue to participate in the EASA systems.  That means compliance with EU regulations while the longer-term EU-UK aviation relationship is worked out.   Currently the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website has a statement[1]:

Engineers transferring their Part-66 licence to other Member States: While the CAA will continue to accept and process Part 66 transfer applications under existing EASA transfer arrangements until the UK leaves the EU, the procedures adopted by the receiving NAA and recognised validity of the licence during the transfer process may vary amongst EU member states. Applicants who require continuity of validity throughout the transfer process are therefore advised to apply at least 3 months prior to Exit Day and should also consider engaging with their intended receiving NAA to identify any potential issues.

Clearly, there are numerous combinations and permutations of situations that can arise for engineers working on aircraft.   Given the history of licencing it’s highly likely that an arrangement will be worked out for next year, 2021.  For now, each individual aircraft engineer needs to check their situation dependent on where they are working and on what aircraft they are working on, at what time.

This will put extra stress on global regulatory oversight activities too.

[1] https://info.caa.co.uk/brexit/licensed-engineers/

Brexit & Aviation 117

2020 is the year of the Rat. The Chinese New Year in starts on Saturday, 25th January.  This is going to be a pivotal year for those born in 1960, like myself.  I hope that all the Rats out there are going to be as ambitious, creative and intelligent as astrologically predicted.  Certainly, that would help with Brexit just days away.

Brexit Day is Friday, 31st January.  It’s like passing through a one-way valve and not so much a bell ringers paradise.  Or even a reason for fanfares.  It’s the date of entry into force of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA), or at least it should be.  Thus, the UK will leave the EU in a fully legal way.  Nevertheless, EU law will continue to apply in the UK for the period of the WA.   That is, that the UK will remain bound by EU treaties.  Also, the EU will ask its partners to treat the UK as if it were still a Member State for all those existing treaties[1].

The biggest impact of the end of the month is that there will no longer be the possibility of revoking the Article 50 TEU[2].   From then on, the way back for the UK to re-join the EU is provided for in Article 49 TEU.  In that foreseeable but unlikely case the UK would be viewed as an applicant State.

In addition to the above, from the 31st the UK loses its institutional representation in the EU.  So, no more British members of the European Parliament, or European Commissioners or European Council members.  Interestingly, at the time of the signing of the Lisbon Treaty the EU had 27 Member States and now it’s returning to that number.

Outside the EU, will the UK be better placed to tackle the major challenges that all States face, including globalisation, climate change, energy security, terrorism and organised crime[3]?  That’s the big open question.  The UK will leave the EU on 31st, but there remains a lot of complex negotiations to come.  This is the start of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

So, is there general happiness and contentment?  No.  In fact, businesses continue to be cautious and concerned.  In particular, the aerospace industry has been alarmed by talk of major regulatory upsets[4].  What will the institutional framework be for the future?   How will it be staffed and funded?  Businesses would like to know where the UK Government intends to go next[5].   It remains difficult to plan if there’s only a scant idea of the intended destination.  That said, Brexit is not bad for everyone.  Germany has seen an increase in interest from British businesses.

[1] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/brexit-transition-period

[2] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/577971/EPRS_BRI(2016)577971_EN.pdf

[3] https://twitter.com/wef/status/1218937427936583681?s=20

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/a89dfdea-3d07-11ea-a01a-bae547046735

[5] https://www.iod.com/news-campaigns/news/articles/IoD-calls-on-Government-to-publish-Brexit-negotiating-objectives

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On your marks, get set and go.  The starting pistol hasn’t been fired yet, but the players are on their marks.  It’s a 100-meter sprint.  Or should I say a 109.361-yard sprint to the end of the year.

The EU27 Member States are having their preparatory discussions on their future relationship with the UK[1].  At the same time statements are drifting out of British Minister’s offices containing rhetoric more suited to an election campaign.

Croatia’s presidency of the Council of the EU[2] is up and running until 30 June 2020 when Germany takes over.  The EU’s “Internal EU27 Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom” has published slides that illustrate the likely situation after the 31st January.   They recognise that transport, including aviation will be a fundamental component of the EU-UK relationship.  It’s clear that UK aviation operators will no longer have the same access rights as EU Member State operators.

Now, according to The Financial Times the British Chancellor is saying[3]: “There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule taker, we will not be in the Single Market and we will not be in the Customs Union — and we will do this by the end of the year.”

These words maybe for public consumption because to an extent they speak the obvious.  One exception is the notion that the UK will not be a “rule taker”.  Naturally, this can be interpreted in many ways, even in this year, when the existing Withdrawal Agreement becomes law.  Because that agreement has the affect of taking European rules and making them UK rules.

In trading with large markets, like the EU and US there’s going to be the obligation to meet their standards.  It seems obvious to say but that means having rules that are either taken from those parties or that are acceptable to those parties.  Call that what you like but it is taking rules.  Never in the past did the UK Parliament approve every single new or modified rule that the was part of compliance with an international agreement and it’s likely that will continue.

EU aviation rules are designed to be compliant with international standards and recommended practices.  There is scope for the UK to deviate from the existing arrangements.  The question should be asked, as to; why and what are the benefits in doing so?

Meanwhile, as the scene is set for the next step in these vital international negotiations, the daily news in the UK is far more trivial; a £500,000 crowd funding exercise for some big bongs in London is filling the airwaves and newspapers.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/seminar-20200115-transport_en.pdf

[2] https://eu2020.hr/

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/18ddc610-3940-11ea-a6d3-9a26f8c3cba4

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It’s January.  There’s no doubt that we have entered a new political era in the UK.  It’s 13 days into the new decade.  Although the basic issues haven’t changed much the manner of the debate about what might be possible has changed beyond recognition.  Unlike in 2017, the UK General Election (GE) has given us a solidly “Leave” Parliament.  Whatever most of the people in the Country may think or wish, the lawmakers we have are predominantly Eurosceptic.

The UK’s pro-European movements will keep fighting for their views to be represented in UK politics.  There’s an important place for those who would have preferred to “Remain” in the European Union (EU), but their voice is diminished.  Now future of relationships on trade, transport and security must be determined within the lifetime of this new UK Parliament.  Given the size of the political majority, I assume it will last for 5-years.

Most experts with experience of Government negotiations know Brexit won’t be “done” in 2020[1].   British businesses, including aviation will not be fully ready for next December.  Any EU-UK deal agreed this year will probably be limited in scope[2].   No one, outside a small group on Ministers, knows if that will include international aviation.

The European Commission (EC) Task Force for Relations with the UK has just published slides that show how they see the start of negotiations.   These slides were provided for information purposes to the Council Working Party (Article 50) on 13 January.  They show the huge gap between a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Single Market.

British MEPs are arriving at the Strasbourg Parliament for the last time[3].   On the agenda this week are such subjects as an EU-China Agreement on aspects of air services.  It does seem strange that the UK will no longer be part of the debate on such subjects post-Brexit.  Surely there will be a continuing interest in such debates.

In the news is the fact that Europe’s biggest regional airline Flybe are fighting for survival less than a year after being bailed out by an industry consortium.  Some deny that this is Brexit related.  Others disagree: “Brexit and the way the government’s aviation taxes hit a regional airline like Flybe have been a double whammy,” says Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw[4].   They fly from Exeter airport.  The company, as a member of the European Regions Airline Association[5] based in Surrey, no doubt supports the view that the aviation industry shouldn’t suffer the brunt of political inadequacies.

Note: 15/01/2020.  Flybe has been saved from a potential collapse after the UK Government and company shareholders agreed to provide emergency funding.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/why-brexit-will-not-be-done-by-this-year-2020-1?r=US&IR=T

[2] https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications/getting-brexit-done

[3] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/infos-details.html?id=17301&type=Flash

[4] https://www.benbradshaw.co.uk/

[5] https://www.eraa.org/sites/default/files/180214_pb_brexit_brochure_feb18_0.pdf

Brexit & Aviation 114

We are now in that strange no-man’s-land between Christmas and the New Year.  Often a time when people are gathering their reflections on the year that’s passing.  It’s a time to look ahead too.  Look ahead with hope and optimism, in so far as one can.

There’s a couple of news stories floating around primed to stir-up new political conflicts as we burst into 2020.  A “will they or won’t they?” series of speculations about the rules that the City of London may or may not have to follow post Brexit is running.  Similar speculations could be applied to transport but that’s not at the top of the agenda just now.  It seems crazy to state the obvious but leaving an organisation based on law will have legal consequences regardless of the sector.

Next year, talks will proceed along the lines of the Political Declaration that was drawn-up by the two parties, in October last.  That document is non-binding but does set the tone for what the UK and EU want or wanted at the time.  No doubt a red line for the EU27 Member States in the 2nd phase of the Brexit negotiations will be a level playing field[1].  As I’ve pointed out before, in aviation technical regulations and standards are just as important as tariffs.  In my last item, I poo pooed “no alignment” because my Mr Spock like logic says; no one aims for a lose-lose outcome.  Do they?

Today, some right-wing activists are shouting; let’s get back to gallons, ounces and yards.  Having won battles like the change of the British passport colour to blue[2], there’s a group that has been emboldened by Brexit.  All British passports issued from early 2020 will be blue.  National newspapers[3] print the cry; let’s have temperature reported in Fahrenheit and liquids in pints and fluid ounces.  All this might be easily dismissed but it is as well to remember that a whole lot of things have been dismissed and then they came to be.  Unfortunately, for us appeasing a populist political trend is part of the play book of the new UK Government.  On 31 January the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) will come to an end.  The UK PM will next switch from phrases like: “Get Brexit Done” to “Taskforce Europe” to whitewash the fact that Brexit goes on and on.  At the same time the UK Parliament will become no more than a bystander in what’s to come.   

None of this retrograde thinking or smoke and mirrors is in the best interests of the Country.  We are at a time when digitisation is transforming the heart of aerospace manufacturing.  Aviation businesses are implementing significant changes to maximise opportunities in more integrated systems.  Being side-tracked into British imperial theme park romanticism will mean a declining marketplace.

These Brexit stories will be a part of the popular news in the year ahead but so will be the US Presidential race.  What happens in the US will have a global impact, especially if the incumbent is re-elected.  That will be in the foreground while EU – UK talks will be in the background until a crunch decision time comes.  There will be more than one of these crunch times throughout the year.  Expect a predicable line to be taken as the Conservatives tighten their grip on power.

[1] https://www.epc.eu/en/publications/Ensuring-a-post-Brexit-level-playing-field~26c1e0

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/passport-design-changes/changes-to-the-design-of-british-passports

[3] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/01/now-sovereign-nation-must-bring-back-imperial-units/

Brexit & Aviation 113

As we have found over the last 3-years and more, reports and reality are often far apart.  Being reported is that the British Prime Minster (PM) is saying that there will be “no alignment” with the European Union (EU) after Brexit is done[1].  Boosted by a UK Parliamentary majority this stark statement maybe no more than playing to the galleries.

However, political positions are hardening.  The UK Government has excluded an extension of the transition period and enshrine this in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).  Many believe that this is not a good-faith implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU.

Now, the UK Parliament’s role in scrutinising any future relationship has been diminished.  So, if EU-UK negotiations go badly there’s no holding back the hard-core right-wingers who are unconcerned if the UK reverts to trading on only WTO terms.

So quickly to become bullish is a high-risk strategy. Having been at this process for so long it’s likely the EU will remain united and undaunted by the threat of a breakdown in talks.  Afterall, it deals with States that are bigger and more powerful than the UK.  So, maybe the UK PM is still primarily speaking to a domestic audience.  As the slogan “Get Brexit Done,” used by the Conservative Party in their 2019 General Election messaging fades into the background, the UK’s place in the world seems more vulnerable[2].

The aviation sector relies on long-term commitments to regulated markets.  Global investment is more likely with an assurance of stability and a sense of direction.  Contrary to right-wing political opinion good regulation benefits growth.  At the same time, it benefits sustainability as unprecedented climate change continue to escalate.

Thinking about how to achieve a close and constructive relationship with the EU is vital.  The practical downsides of Brexit is starting to become evident[3].  It could be that the political struggle for a Brexit is ending an initial stage.  Now, the daunting task to define Brexit is only just starting.

If anyone considers it’s easier for the UK to pivot towards the United States rather than the EU they are in for a shock.  Federal law governing international aviation less flexible and more complex than EU law whatever some may wish you to think.  Reality will bite quickly and not to the advantage of the UK.

There will be people thinking about these challenges over Christmas and the New Year.  Most of us will be happy not to hear a Brexit word or a three-letter abbreviation for a couple of weeks.  2019 will not be missed.  It’s quite enough to know that 2020 will be full of breaking news and tantrums about the ups and downs of this continuing saga.

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/12/20/boris-johnson-insists-will-no-alignment-eu-brexit/

[2] https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/getting-brexit-done-brings-defense-challenges

[3] https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/uk-news/huge-changes-british-holidaymakers-flying-17440064

Brexit & Aviation 111

And so, it begins.  It’s December Friday 13th.  The winter election is over.  The results of the UK General Election (GE) are with us[1].   The election victory for the UK Conservative Party is complete.  Their leader, Boris Johnson will continue as UK Prime Minister with an overall majority in the UK Parliament.

It’s almost certain that the Parliamentary scrutiny of the previously tabled Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) will now be a cursory matter as it’s pushed through at speed.  The UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) will come to an end.  Next year will be one that breaks ties that have linked continental Europe and the UK since my childhood.  Even now it’s not entirely clear what that will mean to either party.

Newly elected Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) are committed to Brexit.  That said, amongst them there’s a great number of different views as to the direction that should be taken post-Brexit.  Deciding the future EU-UK relationship with respect to aviation is a matter for the UK Government in its future negotiations with the EU.  At this stage it’s not clear what path that negotiation will take.

A cabinet reshuffle may take place on next Monday.  There are no signs that this will include Transport.  Transport related polices are not so evident from the Conservative’s election manifesto.  There’s some mention of efforts to boost productivity and innovation.  Also, investment in skills and training get a few lines.

UK MPs will return to the House of Commons (HoC) on Tuesday, 17 December.  Then the following Thursday is likely to see a new Queen’s Speech where the UK Government’s sets out its legislative agenda.  Britain is due to leave the EU on 31 January, the 4th deadline since the 2016 referendum.  It’s certain that January will be dominated by the legislative work to pass the WAB.

However, this is not Brexit “done”.  If the WAB passes, the UK will enter a transition phase where its relationship with the EU will, in practice remain unchanged until 31 December 2020.  In many ways the real work is just beginning.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50765773

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If it happens, leaving the European Union (EU) does not mean that the UK will not have a vital relationship with the organisation in the future.  Sorry about the double negative.  The simple indisputable facts of geography, cultural heritage, shared history, political experience and social bonds mean that a closeness exists that goes way beyond relationships with other places.

Unravelling the UK’s EU membership is only at its beginning and yet it’s proving to be painful and tortuous.  Just now, there’s the possibility of another extension to the initial part of the process.  This possess more choices for Prime Minister Johnson as he twists and turns on the Brexit spit.

There’s hammering on and attempting to leave the EU on 31 October with “No Deal” and then blaming all and sundry.   Genuine short-term thinking in the extreme.  There’s continuing with the detailed Parliamentary scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in the hope that it will not take long or be too mean a radical reshaping of the deal.

Finally, there’s stopping the WAB’s scrutiny process with the aim of provoking a UK General Election (GE) and making Christmas 2019 one no none will want to remember.  As in 2017, with the faint hope that one political Party or another will rule the roost as we go into the New Year.

This weekend, the indications are that the last option is taking shape.  Monday may bring a “yes” or “no” to the prospect of a winter election.  Certainly, winter is coming.

When UK Ministers talk of the fantastic opportunities there are for new free trade deals all over the world there’s a tendency to forget aviation and the aerospace industries.  By its nature aviation is a global business.  Within that mobility is nothing new.  Go to Seattle or Toulouse and there’s many Brits who have made their home in those cities.

The term: “Brain Drain” was prevalent throughout my early education[1].  It was when highly qualified British engineers and scientists were attracted to leave the UK to work on exciting well-funded projects and for better prospects in other Countries.  Even in the early 1980s, when I graduated as a young engineer many of my colleagues left these shores and didn’t return.

If it happens, I’d dearly love to be optimistic about post-Brexit prospects in the UK, but the signs are not good.  Amongst politicians and public alike, not only is there an endemic backward-looking nostalgia but also a lack of realism about the nature of the international cooperation needed to succeed in the future.

Today, the economic situation is different from the 1970s, but the weaknesses of that time like; low productivity, short-termism and the lack of a common vision remain with us.  Brexit is the wrong medicine for our ailments.

[1] http://doc.ukdataservice.ac.uk/doc/6099/mrdoc/pdf/6099uguide.pdf

Brexit & Aviation 108

After a day of drama, Britain awakes this Sunday with no clear view of what happens next.  The clock keeps ticking and, if deadlines mean anything, then the next one is 11 days away.

It’s true that under no circumstances was disentangling the UK from a 40 years relationship with the European Union (EU) going to be easy.  Are we heading towards a new postponement?  It seems highly likely regardless of the UK Prime Minister’s (PM) latest letter[1].  It seems that PM Johnson is taking advice from P G Wodehouse: “It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”  We could argue about who’s right and who’s wrong but let’s look at what’s on the table instead.

One of the biggest changes that is evident in the new Withdrawal Agreement (WA) concerns the “level playing field”.  That is that the binding commitments for the UK to maintain minimum standards in the areas of social and environmental policy, tax, competition and State aid have been removed from the WA.  The detailed discussion has been put off to the post-Brexit EU-UK negotiating phases.  A closer future relationship means more obligations and a looser relationship means less and this will be linked to the level of market access.   A framework for the future relationship is set out in a new Political Declaration[2].

Looking at the House of Common (HoC) business for Monday, 21 October 2019, several motions for approval of Statutory Instruments (SIs) are to be agreed.  The reality for Brexit is that much existing European regulation is being incorporated in UK law[3].  Many of the proposed changes are to align the text with the appropriate UK institutions as opposed to the European ones.

Therefore, whatever future changes there may be to the “level playing field” and this applies to aviation as much as anything, at least initially both EU and UK will be pretty much aligned.  The political direction post-Brexit will greatly depend on the outcome of a pending UK General Election (GE).  That must come given that the UK Government trying to do all this has no majority in the UK Parliament and a record of loosing votes.

We are in a fast-moving and unpredictable environment.  It’s a good idea not to make too many knee-jerk reactions or draw too many conclusions.  PM Johnson has, in a half-hearted manner applied for an extension to the Thursday, 31 October 2019 end date.  We will soon see if this is granted by all the parties involved.  Ongoing political and economic uncertainty may yet signal the end of the Brexit project.  The genuine technical reality of the benefits of working together for the common good in Europe remains.

[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840660/PM_to_Donald_Tusk_19_October_2019.pdf

[2] Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom;

[3] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201920/cmagenda/ob191021.htm#_idTextAnchor005