So, what’s the problem? A civil aircraft with passengers on-board, on a scheduled flight, flying over a sovereign State was diverted because of an alleged terrorist threat. Aircraft lands safely and in the end most of the passengers continue to their intended destinations.

Well, the case of the forced diversion of Ryanair flight #FR4978, a commercial passenger aircraft over Belarus on Sunday, 23 May 2021, is a matter for grave concern. The aircraft was carrying European citizens and residents between two European Union (EU) capitals.

The track of the Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens (ATH) to Vilnius (VNO) was posted on Twitter[1]. The Boeing 737-800 was diverted to Minsk in Belarus whilst it was about to start its approach to Vilnius airport in Lithuania.  The Ryanair flight maintained 39,000 ft toward Lithuania before beginning a diversion about 73km from VNO and only 30 km from border.  The Polish registered Boeing passenger aircraft (SP-RSM) was forced to land in Belarus.  

More than 5 hours after the landing of flight FR4978, the aircraft remained on the ground in Minsk.  Whilst the aircraft was on the ground the Belarusian authorities detained opposition activists, Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

Was the aircraft hijacked to go to Minsk? Well, there’s no report of force being used on-board the aircraft, so strictly speaking this may not be a hijacking.  The mystery deepens when considering that if the alleged terrorist threat was credible, it would have been far safer to continuing into Lithuanian airspace and land at the intended destination. 

Also, there’s the Belarusian military fast-jet aircraft (MIG 29) that accompanied flight FR4978. This could be considered aggressive intimidation of the Ryanair flight crew.  It certainly limited their flight’s options in respect of the situation.  The military interception of a civil aircraft for political reasons is a serious act and one that can put the safety of passengers in peril. So, whether it’s called a “forced diversion” or a “State Hijacking” it could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention. That’s the basis on which international civil aviation is normally conducted. 

It’s now clear that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)[2] will carry out an independent investigation into this Ryanair flight[3].   Strong condemnation has come from the European Union (EU)[4]. The aircraft operator, the State of Registry, and many of the passengers were from EU Member States. 

If the investigation concludes that officials in Belarus faked a bomb threat to divert this Ryanair flight for political purposes, then this is a gravely troubling act that has horrendous implications for international civil aviation.  No other authorities had knowledge of a bomb threat to this Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight. The Greek Civil Aviation Authority, as the aircraft took-off from Athens, has stated that it received no bomb warning.

This event is an attack on European democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of movement and safety. The Belarus authorities need to immediately release Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

Update 1: EASA issues Safety Directive calling on Member States to mandate avoidance of Belarus airspace.

Update 2: Simillar thoughts: The interception of #Ryanair Flight #FR4978 – legal or not, carriers have been put on notice.





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.






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) 1

IMG_1590If 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[1].  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[1]. 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.


Brexit, Aviation and the Withdrawal 2

Watching UK Prime Minister Johnson’s speech[1], made in Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich yesterday, there’s no doubt the setting was impressive.  The words were not so impressive.  In fact, they were downright confusing. Phrases like: “Free trade is the only certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace” are peculiar given that the UK has just left one of the world’s most successful projects for free trade and peace.

There were jaunty references to being like Canada, or Australia or something akin to these two Commonwealth States.  The vision painted by Johnson had none of the precision or artistry of the walls in the recently restored Painted Hall[2].   Even so, there was an echoing theme that the UK wouldn’t follow any rules other than its own.

The reference to a country that’s bigger in physical size but smaller in population and that has a larger neighbour to the south, is interesting from an aviation perspective.  It’s true that Canada has its own aviation regulatory structure.  It hosts the international organisation that is responsible for aviation standards, namely ICAO.  In addition, it has major aerospace design, manufacturing and maintenance companies as well as international operators.

However, Canada’s free trade agreement (CETA) with the European Union (EU) doesn’t eliminate all tariffs and quotas.  Built over many years, for aviation there is a level of mutual recognition between Canada and the EU.

In 2011, an agreement on civil aviation safety between the EU and Canada entered into force[3].  Part of this agreement includes detailed working arrangements.  This international cooperation was agreed when both sides demonstrated to the other that they had the regulatory competence and capacity to satisfy each other’s needs.  The work is by no means finished.

So, yes perhaps it is the case that carbon copy rules, or complete harmonisation between parties is not the only route to mutual recognition.  Usually, regulatory differences exist not because parties want them to exist for their own sake but that each party has a different set of experiences.  In design certification, the reason for a great number of rules and standards can be traced back to accidents and incidents.  Not everyone has had the same history or operates in the same environment (social, political, economic and so on).  Regulatory maturity is only established over decades.  Then regulators can assess each other’s systems and decide that arrangements, like accepting each other’s certificates can be done safely.  What I’ve described doesn’t happen overnight.  A conservative, with a small “c”, approach is taken to aviation safety because the consequences of getting it wrong can be tragic.




Brexit & Aviation 105

The title of this Government’s Brexit proposals could be called: I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.  But that title has been taken by a long-running BBC Radio comedy series.  And I do mean long-running.  The last series was number 71.  If you listen to this clip of “The Uxbridge Dictionary[1]” it might mask the Brexit murk for a minute or two.  By the way, Uxbridge is the Parliamentary Constituency of the Prime Minister.

Here’s a point to clarify.  I keep seeing references to the global aviation regulator ICAO.

Now, as I have mentioned before, ICAO is the International Civil Aviation Organisation.  It’s the organisations 75th birthday this year and that’s good reason to celebrate.  It brings together 193 of the world’s States.  However, ICAO is not a “regulator”.  It does not issue approvals, licences or certificates.  It does not have enforcement powers, like a CAA.  I was going to say that it does not investigate aviation accidents but, I believe it has in one or two special cases.

A key technical role of ICAO is to set Standards and Recommended Practices.  From that the States develop their own framework of legislation that empowers their organisations, sometimes called Agencies or Authorities or Administrations or Directorates to do the regulatory work.

It must be like this given that there’s a great range of different legal systems across the globe.  In fact, those who created ICAO recognised this reality from day one and it’s enshrined in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention[2].   The Convention is explicit about the complete and exclusive sovereignty of contracting States.  Although as I learned last week there’s one or two exceptions to this exclusivity.

The European Union (EU) is recognised as a regional organisation at ICAO.  Nevertheless, each European State has, or shares a delegation at ICAO’s HQ in Montreal.   When it comes to making policy for international civil aviation the EU Member States work together.  Coordination is vital to make an impact inside a multinational and multicultural organisation like ICAO.

Yet, its unclear how Brexit will change this arrangement, or if it will change at all.  The opportunity to work together on common interests is always possible.  On issues, like climate change it’s highly likely that Europe and the US will have more in common than say; China, India and Russia.

Where difficulties are more likely are when technical standards in Europe and the US differ.  Then the possibility of competition to set international standards might present awkward choices.




Brexit & Aviation 103

This week, I have had the great pleasure of being in Canada and I mean that without hesitation or reservation.  Here in Montreal the sun shines one day and then the next the rain comes thundering down.  Flowers are still blooming, and the leaves are just contemplating leaving the trees.  All in all, it’s a perfect time to be in the city.

The last time I participated in the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO’s) 3-yearly Assembly was 6-years ago.  That was the 38th Assembly and this one is the 40th.  It’s noticeable how much less paper there is this time and how much more reliance there is on Apps[1], phones and tablets.  During Assembly Sessions, ICAO’s complete work programme in the technical, economic, legal and technical cooperation fields are reviewed[2].  Over 2000 people took part in the event.

In international aviation several of the major subjects under discussion are forever with us.  Reminding delegates of one of the biggest subjects all work stopped on Friday.  The biggest climate change march in Canada took place here in Montreal.  An estimated half a million people paraded through the city with serious intent but in an altogether carnival atmosphere.

Being here as an observer reminds me how much effort is required to get agreement between the 193 States of ICAO.  It’s a huge credit to the organisation’s secretariat that the Assembly runs like clockwork even when changes are made at the last minute.  EU Member States play a significant part in the proceedings of the Assembly.  Each as a sovereign State but acting together with a common purpose.  The UK is part of that European team.

The ICAO Assembly completed its selection of the 36 States that will oversee its work over the next period.  This is a complex voting arrangement that engages the States’ delegations for the first part of the Assembly.  The UK is one of those States selected to sit on the organisation’s Council[3].

Now, with Brexit I wonder what will happen in 3-years’ time.  Perhaps it’s less wise to speculate on that question than it may have been even a couple of weeks ago.  The situation is so turbulent as each party makes a final push to achieve their ends.

One truth is clear.  If people are serious about tackling global issues, like climate change, then organisations like ICAO have a pivotal role to play.  The more fragmentation of views there is in the world then the harder it will be to coordinate effective actions.   It’s hard enough now.





Aviation & Brexit 97

The 40th G7 summit has taken place this week in Biarritz, France.  The 7 are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and the European Union (EU).  Japan and Canada have just signed major free trade agreements with the EU.  Otherwise the talk was of increasing trade tensions between the world’s biggest economies, namely: US and China.  The environment did get a look in given the wild fires in South America.

In the past, G7 leaders have recognised the “urgent need” for the aviation industry to adopt zero-carbon growth strategy.   Since there was no joint statement from this week’s meeting its difficult to tell if this continues to be an urgent concern.  The signs are not good given the empty chair when discussion with world leaders were on helping the Amazon forest and reducing carbon emissions.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting & Reduction Scheme for Aviation (CORSIA) should also play an important role in achieving global environmental goals.  At a regional level, there’s the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE)’s long-term aim to reduce air transport CO2 emissions by up to 75% by 2050.  I don’t know if UK organisations will remain part of the ACARE[1] post-Brexit.  That may happen for those international companies wishing to remain with influence in Europe.

At his first G7 summit as UK Prime Minister, Mr Johnson was consumed by the thining quicksand of Brexit.  It’s said we have now gone from “a million to one” all the way to “touch and go[2]” as to whether the UK and EU agree a Brexit deal.

I’m wondering if Mr Johnson knows what “touch and go[3]” means.  Maybe he does and the “go” will be a last minute extension to forge a final agreement on the Irish issue.

One subject the Brexiters are looking at is cutting the UK’s Air Passenger Duty (APD).  APD was introduced in 1994.  It has grown to be one of the highest taxes on flying in the world and brings in a considerable revenue to the UK Treasury.  The UK MP for the town of Crawley, that’s near London Gatwick Airport, chairs an Air Passenger Duty All Party Parliamentary Group that meets in Westminster.  They are pressing the UK Government’s finance ministry to drop the tax to boost flying after Brexit.  What that will do for national and international environmental goals isn’t known.

A week ago, a leaked UK Cabinet Office Operation #Yellowhammer document was made public.  Setting out the likely aftershocks of a No Deal Brexit, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.   It now appears that the document is from this month and not a historic document as some Ministers claimed.  In fact, a Government Minister dismissed this as “Project Fear” and “scaremongering” and yet the document is by the Government.  The report lists delays at EU ports and airports as one major risk.

The UK’s £36 billion aerospace sector is now faced with the work of preparing for a disorderly Brexit for a second time this year.  Without a doubt a No Deal Brexit remains the worst outcome for flyers and the aviation industry.  There are many UK businesses that are particularly vulnerable since they are not able to adapt.  Also, with the currency falling in value control may go to overseas buyers as they snap up good deals.

There is no mandate for a reckless No Deal Brexit but it seems increasingly likely.




Aviation & Brexit 96

69 days left on the Brexit clock.  Only a few days untill the UK Parliament returns from its summer break.  And now 30 days to find an alternative to a hard border on the island of Ireland.  Or is that now 28 days?  That said, Brexiters have had decades to come up with a workable answer to that question so I wonder if a few more days will change anything.  Now, the EU is waiting for “realistic, operational & compatible” proposals.

If the UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)[1] will take over the functions performed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in relation to aviation approvals and certifications.  The EASA’s mandate and roles as an Agency of the EU with regulatory and executive tasks in the field of civil aviation safety are not altered within the EU-28 and 4 associated Countries until the UK leaves.

Details about a non-negotiated EU exit and its impact on aviation and aerospace industries have been published.  It’s worth having a look at “The CAA’s guide to Brexit No Deal & Aviation Safety[2]”.  It’s well presented and a useful summary of the temporary measure in place.  There’s one mistake on the final page on slide 13 where it references: “membership of the global aviation regulator ICAO”.  The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN).  The UK has been an ICAO Member State since its origins.  However, it’s not right to call ICAO an aviation regulator.  It does publish Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) and its Member States are expected to comply with those SARPS.  However, although ICAO conducts audits it doesn’t have a right of enforcement and thus is not a regulator.  It can’t levy fines or amend or remove approvals or certificates.  It doesn’t issue licences or directives.  Aviation is a global industry, but it is not globally regulated.

In 31 days, the ICAO Assembly[3]​ takes place in Montreal, Canada.  This is the international organisation’s sovereign body where major policy decisions are made for the next 3-years.  ICAO’s 193 Member States, and many international organisations are invited to the general Assembly.  Many working papers and information papers are submitted for the participants to consider.  European papers are coordinated before the Assembly[4].  In this case they are submitted and presented by Finland on behalf of the EU and its Member States, the other Member States of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), and by EUROCONTROL.  I imagine this situation will remain unchanged if Brexit happens since the UK will remain a member of ECAC and EUROCONTROL.   At least as far as I know.





Aviation & Brexit 83

This week there’s been a strong message in the news.  It’s been about the lessons of history, the value of cooperation and the vital role played by international institutions in keeping the peace that we enjoy.  That’s no less true in civil aviation as it is in many other walks of life.

Until the 1940s aircraft operation, design and manufacturing activities were mostly conducted at a national level.  With the advances in technology brought about in World War II and anticipating a post-war growth in civil aviation far sighted Governments set-up what is the now the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).  This organisation formulates basic standards and practices that can applied by its Member States across the globe.

Back in my Blog; Brexit 67, I mentioned that this year is an important year for ICAO.  It’s an Assembly year[1].  Every 3-years an Assembly comprised of the Member States of ICAO meet at its HQ in Montreal, Canada.  During the first 75 years of its existence, ICAO has made an indisputable contribution to the development of worldwide civil aviation.  This is quite an achievement given the need to get agreement with its 193 Member States and many international organisations.

During the ICAO Assembly sessions, a work programme in the technical, economic, legal and technical cooperation fields is reviewed in detail.  Within ICAO, the European Union (EU) its agency, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)[2] are major contributors to its work.   The role and recognition of regional organisations is growing.  Its accepted that solutions need to be tailored to fit the local circumstances in global regions.

In respect of Brexit, whatever happens to the UK, as an ICAO Member State it will need to continue to apply international Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs).  Today, civil aviation is regulated at European level.  To make that work the aviation safety regulations agreed at European level comply with the ICAO SARPs.   However, it’s an hierarchical construction so much of the detail needed is in what is often called “soft law” and can be changed independently of the ICAO SARPs.

Even in this Brexit extension period uncertainty remains as to what you may need to do to continue working and operating in the aviation industry if, or after the UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019.  The UK’s lack of clarity and direction are not helpful for anyone in who wishes to plan.   It will be interesting to see if the UK makes a meaningful contribution to the ICAO Assembly this year, as it has done in the past.


[2] EASA is responsible for the issuance of type certificates and organisation approvals in the EU. After its withdrawal, the UK will resume these tasks under its obligations as ‘State of Design’ under the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.