Flying, Democracy and Safety 5.

jet cloud landing aircraft
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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.






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.






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.



Flying, Democracy and Safety 2.

gray airplane illustration
Photo by Alex Powell on

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.




[3] @RollsRoyce




Flying, Democracy and Safety 1.

woman in white face mask
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

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.


Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 10

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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.


[2] Victory in Europe Day on 8 May.


Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 9

walking airport travel waiting
Photo by Negative Space on

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.







Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 8

two pilots sitting inside plane
Photo by Rafael Cosquiere on

The indications are that the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations were disappointing but constructive even as they took place in challenging conditions. It’s interesting to see the diplomatic use of the word: ”constructive” displaying calculated vagueness. On the upside, the statements made by a UK Government spokesperson hints at some convergence on transport matters[1]. That can only be good.

The next round begins on 11 May. The one after that begins on 1 June. Then later in June there’s a plan for a High-Level Conference to take stock of progress in the UK-EU negotiations[2].

Most observers should be concerned about the lack of pragmatism and realism being shown by the parties.  The likelihood of a No Deal Brexit outcome is still big. One reason for this is that, for many Brexiters, libertarians and populists, Brexit is their “raison d’etre”. So, that means pushing on regardless of the social, economic and reputational costs.  In a year of pandemic, you might ask the question: who would want more damage?

More than ever I’m remined that Government is an oil tanker. Once it sets off in a direction it’s incredibly difficult to turn around.  The poor early response to COVID-19 shows how difficult reorientation of Government activities are even in the face of a clear and present danger. It seems brinkmanship by the UK is because it doesn’t know how to do differently.  The direction set is either the UK will agree with the EU a deal on the lines of the free trade agreement the EU has with Canada or it’s a No Deal Brexit.

Sadly, it’s undoubtably true that the global aviation industry will emerge from 2020 weaker and more vulnerable than it has been for decades.  Now we have announcements that British Airways (BA) plan to cut up to 12,000 jobs as its worst crisis in history unfolds[3]. Virgin Atlantic is on the road to collapse without help.

Lufthansa is set to receive rescue package worth roughly €9bn from the German Government.  Air France is to receive $7.6 billion loan package backed by the French Government[4]. So, far the UK Government is remaining tight lipped.

More than ever, European aviation, Governments and health organisations need to collaborate and co-ordinate to mitigate the disastrous effects of COVID-19.  Brexit is a diversion.





Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 7

IMG_1754 (2)Globally, the air transport industry supports 65.5 million jobs. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has looked at the potential economic Impacts of COVID19 on civil aviation[1]. Even factoring in many uncertainties, these projections are dreadful.

Predictions are that this pandemic will take 3 to 4 years to pass[2]. Some industry commentators go as far as to say that the days of low-cost flying are behind us. They may never return. The UK is one of the worst hit countries in Europe.

In the meantime, employees are being furloughed[3] in the hope that restrictions will be slowly lifted later in the year. Even though work may have dried up companies and personnel still need to maintain the validity of their certificates and licenses. ICAO has asked its Member States to be flexible in their approaches while adhering to their international obligations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an exceptional challenge for everyone. The UK Government has, in the past said that: aviation is “…at the heart of the United Kingdom’s economic success.”. These words need to count for something as difficult choices are made. There are things that can be done to improve the situation. Safeguarding aviation is important so that it’s working to help rebuild the economy after the coronavirus crisis.

If you have read my previous Blogs, you will see that I’m a strong advocate for securing an extension to the UK-EU relationship negotiating period.  It’s clear that officials in Brussels, would like the UK Government to start the discussion on an extension. Getting an extension could deliver real advantages[4] for both parties especially in the middle of the greatest public health and economic crisis since WWII.

By remote means, the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations took place this week, from 20-24 April[5]. To date the UK Government’s position remains highly political, somewhat ignoring the economic consequences of not agreeing an extension. Coronavirus is having a monumental impact on almost every aspect of life in Europe. It makes sense to step back and take the time that is needed to get Brexit right. Dogma and ideology will not serve anyone well at this time. Sadly, Brexiters in the UK Government are still fighting their corner as if it was 2016.



[3] The word ‘furlough’ generally means temporary leave of absence from work.



Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 5

nature animal fog freedom
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At the start of this pandemic, prominent UK Brexiters were saying: no need to panic.  Let people continue to mingle.  Let the virus become widespread so lots of people build-up an immunity[1].  As is so typically with Brexiters, they could not have given worse advice at a worse time.  What’s sad is that, at the beginning of the year the UK Government was going down this uncaring road.

In the UK, we have broken the ominous threshold of 10,000 deaths put down to Coronavirus.  It’s tragic that the UK Government didn’t take the warnings signs coming from China sufficiently serious.  Now, the horse has bolted, and everyone is desperately playing catch-up.  The UK’s chief scientific advisor has admitted that coronavirus testing in the UK should have been ramped up faster[2].

Even the hardest of hard-core Brexit supporters are saying, responding to COVID-19 is more important than pushing on with negotiations between UK and EU.  Let’s hope that common sense prevails. The two parties have until the 1 July 2020 to decide whether to extend the existing transition period, and on what detailed terms.  There’s even strange talk in the media that the UK wants pay-as-you-go Brexit.  It’s simply not sane to expect Governments to secure a new free trade deals while dealing with a deadly situation.

It hardly seems right to be writing about Aviation at this moment.  At the beginning of this year the biggest crisis the industry faced was that concerning the Boeing 737 MAX.  It’s been a year since Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed, taking 157 lives[3].  Naturally, that remains an important safety concern, only that it’s overshadowed by the coverage of the impact of lockdowns over the globe.

France has just extended its lockdown till 11 May 2020. It will be surprising if the UK doesn’t mirror what other European States are doing.  Each should be learning from the other in this respect.

We ought to be thankful that there’s so many transport workers, air traffic controllers, pilots, engineers and professionals who maintain aviation. Cargo and essential medical supplies are continuing to be moved safely by air.  Aviation safety must remain the top priority whatever the commercial or mission pressures.