It looks like we have not reached the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK. It looks like there’s no practical exit strategy for the current lock-down. It looks like the longer this goes on the more dramatically different the future will be from what we expected only a few months ago.
We’ve daily UK Government Press Conferences for an update on actions to tackle the pandemic. Unfortunately, too often media questioning offers little insight into really what’s happening. The UK House of Commons is in recess. It’s scheduled to return on Tuesday, 21 April. Maybe then the direction and plans will become a little clearer.
I see the need to reflect on the current situation. Not to think of all the growing problems and difficulties but what, if any, could be the positive outcomes in terms of polices and actions. A bridge to the future. So, here goes with an unstructured list of possibilities but applying my best rose tinted glasses:
- The UK and EU agree a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) that are more extensive and imaginative that any that have gone before it. Building on the best of what already exists both agreements push the bounds of cooperation, collaboration and coordination.
- Restarting the aviation industry pushes it to take climate change more seriously. Retirement of aircraft make space for more efficient ones to come into service. European States stop dragging their heels and employ new technologies for the management of air traffic. There’s a rapid increase in environmental mitigation measures at airports. Also, that all of these are implemented in a way that makes aviation more robust come the next crisis.
- Research and innovation are given a major boost. The urgent need for the rapid development of new methods and systems is enthusiastically accepted and funded. Electric aviation is recognised as a pathway to sustainability and opportunities for new air transport air vehicles to provide new services.
- Greater investment feeds into communication technologies improving the interconnection of every part of Europe. The insatiable demand for growth in travel is stabilised by making the most of remote working. Efforts on cyber security are redoubled. Independent fact checking for social media becomes a priority activity.
- Extreme political polarisation is consigned to the dustbin of history. Woking together is seen as the norm. Enlightened regulation is used to best enhance freedom, prosperity and security. Progressive international bodies are reinforced to be able to better tackle the next global challenge, as surely there will be one.
When the day comes, and the crisis has passed and social distancing is no longer needed, then there will be a great need to reunite people. Aviation’s role is clear. Connecting people across the globe.
 Royal Aeronautical Society has produced a Brexit Briefing Note #brexit #easa http://ow.ly/Kcx750z7o5n
Collaboration is essential especially when action needs to be taken fast. Seeing members of the aerospace industries coming together to scale up the production of medical ventilators is heartening. It’s important to use all our expertise to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those on the Coronavirus front line.
There are credible experts predicting that the forced shutdown will permanently reshape the aviation industry. Already the early retirement of large aircraft is taking place at several international airlines. For example, most Boeing 747-400s are more than 20 years old and airlines are replacing them with more fuel-efficient modern types.
The coronavirus pandemic means airlines are drastically reducing their passenger flights. It’s likely this will cause a spate of order cancellations as costs are being cut. Hitting not only aircraft manufactures but maintenance, repair and overhaul providers too.
EasyJet is reported to be parking its 344 aircraft with an aim to removes significant cost. In the months it takes to contain the COVID19 virus the aviation industry will struggle to avoid permanent damage. It’s appealing to Governments for the waiving of air traffic control and regulatory charges for the whole of the year.
On Brexit, polls now show that most people in the UK want the Government to seek an extension to the transition period to focus on coronavirus recovery. Many experts believe there’s no prospect of Britain striking a Brexit trade deal with the EU without an extension to the transition period. So far, UK Ministers have simply refused to consider this common-sense approach. It has been said that the outcome of the first Brexit Joint Committee, held this week, was like watching two people looking down different ends of a telescope.
In other news, British Airways has suspended its operations at London Gatwick Airport. In addition, the airport has announced that on 1 April it will close its North Terminal. That sobering for me, having last travelled through the North Terminal on 20 March.
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.
Will the UK seek an extension to the UK-EU negotiating period before 1 July 2020? We just don’t know but I imagine that the public relations line and what really happens are going to be different.