Caught in the crossfire?

There’s no doubt the relative calm of the beginning of this century, yes, it seems extraordinary to say that has gone and a series of international events confront civil aviation’s way of working. It’s dramatic. In Europe, most countries, and their industries are shifting the way they operate.

Unfortunately, any reasonable observation shows that the situation for aviation is worse in the UK. Well, that is worse than the UK’s former partner States in the European Union (EU).

In times of difficulty partnerships, between counties and in industry help make the absolute most of economies of scale. It’s difficult to plan when constantly firefighting. It’s like that comic story about crocodiles and draining the swam. It’s difficult to think ahead when surrounded by crocodiles.

I agree with the article posted by David Learmount[1]. The massive efforts to achieve international harmonization in aviation regulation, over decades is of incalculable value. I have been lucky enough to work with exceptional people across the globe and played a small part in helping that move along.

In fact, I’d go further than David. I remember, quite a while ago, attending a lecture at the Brooklands Museum[2]. It was about the history of post-war UK Government involvement in aerospace manufacturing[3]. It wasn’t a happy story. It went a bit like a soap opera with technical excellence mixed with commercial incompetence and political interference. The overall lesson was that going it alone, piling on the world beating rhetoric and an inability to forge working alliances spells disaster. Whereas coming together, working cooperatively, and building multinational partnership pays dividends. Airbus being a prime example.

I joined the European Union Aviation Safety Organisation (EASA) as the start of its operation. It was a huge privilege. It was a rare opportunity. I mean, how many people get to set-up a new aviation authority, let alone one that works for so many States in Europe? I was proud that the UK took a leading role in making this venture happen. It was a progression that had been careful and thoughtfully developed and steered over decades.

What we built was a uniquely European solution. It isn’t a federal construction as we see in the United States (US). In Europe, National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) remain a key part of the system. The part that was new in September 2003 was to overcome a major deficiency of earlier cooperative working. That was the unfortunate habit nation States have for saying that’ll do the same thing but then not doing the same thing in practice.

David mentions the tricky subject of UK Additional Requirements for import. This is when the UK demanded a special difference between its aircraft and those of other countries. Often expensive and making it difficult to move aircraft around. I remember some UK Additional Requirements found their way into new European requirements and others were removed. That was a painful transition period. In aviation, technical requirements are often born of experience of accidents and incidents.

Today, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) works with a set of technical requirements that have been rolled over from the UK’s time as an EASA Member State (2003 – 2021). This presents opportunities to take a new path. Sounds tempting, if only you look at the subject superficially.

International technical standards never stand still. Big players invest resources influencing the direction that they take. Two of the biggest international players in respect of aerospace design and production are EASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

So, UK CAA is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Unless it can significantly influence the big players the only practical way forward is to adopt what they produce (rules, regulations, standards, guidance material). Now, the UK CAA has considerable technical experience and maintains a high reputation, but it does not sit at all the tables where the major decisions are made.

This is the concern that David mentions in his article. The unnecessary ideological exit from EASA membership, that came with Brexit places the UK in a third-party arrangement. Not good.

It’s not like the world has suddenly become dull. Frantic development efforts and huge sums of money are being pumped into greening aviation. Part of this is the new Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). Part of this is known as Urban Air Mobility (UAM). Aviation folk love acronyms. It’s almost as if we are back at the beginning of the jet-age[4]. We know how that went.

Not surprisingly, the UK wants to achieve successes in this new field of “green” aviation.

Flying is a heavily regulated industry. So, national, regional, and international rulemaking processes matter. They matter a lot. Harmonisation matters a lot. That’s having common rules and regulations to maximise the size of the marketplace while ensuring levels of safety and security are high.

The bureaucratic burden of Brexit costs. It’s not free. The UK duplicates rulemaking activities because it must independently update its laws, all the secondary legislation and guidance material that comes with aviation. When there’s a significant difference between UK, Europe, US, and the rest of the world it makes business more complex. Often that added complexity comes with no discernible benefits (economic, social, safety, security, or environmental).

The UK should become an EASA Member State once again. Why not? Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Lichtenstein are not in the EU but are EASA Member States. Across the globe countries follow EASA rules as they are known to deliver the best results.


[1] https://davidlearmount.com/2022/06/17/uk-aviation-caught-in-the-crossfire/

[2] https://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/

[3] https://www.aerosociety.com/media/8257/government-and-british-civil-aerospace-1945-64.pdf

[4] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/comets-tale-63573615/

Still work in progress

Has it really been 100 days since the final, final, final Brexit day? 

The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020.  A Withdrawal Agreement (WA) that the UK Government agreed with the EU, established a transition period that came to an end the day this year started.  Now, a new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has been in force for 97 days. So, it’s not a bad time to have a go at writing a 100-day review.  It’s often a period of reflection that is used to assess a newly elected politician.  It gives an indication of the direction of travel. 

Last year, although it was a top priority of UK industry to stay in, the UK has left the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) based in Cologne.  So, there’s no official UK participation in the EASA activities by right and the UK is treated as any other 3rd Country.  EU law no longer applies to the UK. Much of what was previously applied has been swept up in new UK Legislation[1]

Regulation-wise, to figure out where we are now, it’s necessary to combine the officially published corresponding text of UK Legislation and EU Commission Regulations with the EASA Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material, including amendments.  Some smart people have done this work, but the challenge will be keeping the whole paperwork construction up to date. 

Informed commentators have often said that a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) are needed between the EU and UK.  To some extent the TCA starts the ball rolling by calling for the establishment of a number of committees. 

On the basis that there’s far to much still in flux to discuss, I’ll bite off one key aviation related subject. 

Despite the massive impact of the COVID pandemic on international civil aviation there remains a demand for qualified engineers.  In many ways their roles as Airworthiness Inspectors or Licenced Aircraft Maintenance Engineers have become even more important than ever. Traditionally, there’s no doubt that the UK has been good at training aircraft engineering personnel. Students from all over the world have gained their licences in the UK.  It’s one of the most demanding professions in the world but their dedication to the highest standards keeps flying safe. 

Whilst the UK was a member of the EASA system a licence granted in the UK by an approved organisation was recognised throughout the EASA Member States and beyond.  One of the powerful arguments for continued participation in EASA was the avoidance of the duplication of approvals, certification, and licencing. Each duplication comes with a fee and time consuming paperwork.

The political decisions having been made and that’s exactly what we now have in place. Duplication. In fact, it’s worse than that because there’s asymmetry in the current situation. 

The UK CAA advises Part 66 licence holders to take action to minimise impact on their privileges.  There are several combinations and permutations that can be considered.  There’s a useful updated section of information for licensed engineers on the UK CAA website[2]

Engineers who continue to release EU-registered aircraft to service outside the UK will need to transfer their licence to the National Aviation Authority (NAA) of an EASA Member State. If an engineer works outside the EU and UK, on EU-registered aircraft, a UK Part-66 licence will no longer be valid. 

If an engineer has a non-UK Part-66 licence they will be able to continue to work on UK-registered aircraft for up to two years after the end of the transition period, unless your licence changes or expires (whichever occurs soonest).

There’s also an exemption for engineers who hold a EU Member State issued EASA Part-66 licence who only received
or changed their EASA licence after the departure of the UK from the EU.

All of this is high politics because a Part 66 licence, UK or EU is granted on the same technical basis. Yes, there’s potential of regulatory divergence or new ways of doing business in future. However, it’s difficult to understand what the justification for any divergence might be but the possibility exists.  And as avid Brexit supporters like to point out the UK is no longer subject to EU legislation.  That has no impact of the UK’s need to meet its international obligations. Both UK and EU need to be complient with the ICAO Convention.

There’s much work in progress. Now, is a moment when it all looks like a kitten as been playing with a large ball of wool that has rolled down a staircase.


[1] https://info.caa.co.uk/uk-regulations/

[2]https://info.caa.co.uk/uk-eu-transition/licensed-engineers/