Reflection

Without wishing to sound too much “told you so”, looking back on what I’ve written here over the last 5-years, it’s evident that a lot of it was on the money. Overall, the experience of the last 5-years has diminished our national prosperity and damaged reputations.

There’s a number of central points that shine through the fog. 

For a start, Brexit was not just one event which when delivered would bring an end to decades of introspection about Britain’s place in the world. If anything, the subject is higher on the agenda than it has been for a long time. All twists and turns are analysed in terms of – where are we going?

The underlying theme of the recent years has been to try to restore an imagined past. For some people this is an imperial role. It’s a lamenting of a time when the school map was red with the British empire.  This is, in part, a culture war like that played out by Trump in his term in office in the United States. Instead of applying the immense variety of our heritage as a solid foundation it’s being weaponised. 

Political deception has been fuelled by an age of ubiquitous social media. When so much information, true and false, is pumped out every moment, opinions eclipse facts more frequently than in the past. The louder the incessant shouting, the more money backing the campaigns, the more likely the result impacts policy and decision making.   

Perpetual uncertainty is now expected. Any deals, agreements or working arrangements, however magnificent, are viewed as moments that pass. The traditional phrase “my word is my bond” has no meaning amongst a large band of politicians. Maybe this is a tactical chasing of public opinion data that’s pushed aside any strategic thinking. 

The question can be asked: was all this inevitable? Would it have happened in one form or another even if the referendum vote of June 2016 had gone a different way? On this one, I’m pessimistic.  The idea that a public vote won or lost by a very small margin puts a subject to bed for all time is childish, to say the least.  Such votes are an indication of something deeper.

Yet again our technology speeds ahead of us, far exceeding our ability to cope with it. Both our salvation and our prison warden, we can articulate grander visions but are tied by primitive instincts. 

In my view this is the great merit of social liberal politics. The need for balance. The need for fairness. Instead of letting the libertarian monster out of the bag or denying our human frailties, taking them both into the mix is far wiser than our current destructive course.   

A British politician once said all political careers end in failure. That failure can be avoided, like a mature sports personality, stepping down at the optimal time. For Prime Minister Johnson, all indications are that he’ll crash the ship of state rather than change direction.  Let’s hope the choice is taken from him by a change made by the public. The humble voter.

Flying, Democracy and Safety 7.

flag of united kingdom
Photo by Bernadett Varga on Pexels.com

I have no problem with a Union Jack flag adorning an aeroplane. The British Airways (BA) logo and tail flag from 1982-1997 is still missed by many air travellers.  The quarter Union Jack clearly stated what it represented and said it classically, superbly and strongly[1]. This week we saw the tail flag on the UK Prime Minister’s aeroplane, and it looks wrong.  Apparently, it’s explained that the front of the aeroplane is the “flagpole”[2].  Thus, the only time the tail Union Jack flag will be correctly orientated is when the aeroplane is diving towards the ground.  It seems to me that this image doesn’t send a particularly good “national branding” message to anyone who sees it.

Now, any mention of British Airways (BA) on social media is likely to be accompanies by a derogatory comment. BA has put its staff at risk of redundancy. It’s forcing through pay cuts on staff, even though they’re a financially sound company taking advantage of the UK Government’s COVID-19 furlough scheme. On the morning of Wednesday 24 June, a UK House of Commons Transport Committee meeting took place with the star witness being the Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State, Department for Transport. When questioned about the situation it seemed the UK Government is taking the position of a passive observer.

An open UK Parliamentary petition is doing the rounds. It’s calling for the UK Government to support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak. In total, COVID-19 could cost the UK aviation industry up to £20.1 billion in 2020[3]. So far, the UK Government has not offered sector specific help as other European Governments have done so.

Virgin Atlantic Airways is working on a do-it-yourself plan to keep flying. They have given up on sector specific UK Government support for aviation.

It looks as if the UK Government is to rip up its Coronavirus quarantine rules for some returning travellers in move that will at least help. Were it not for the #Brexit transition period, until 31 December, the UK might have been on the EU’s banned Countries list given its national COVID-19 case numbers.

Now let’s look at what remains of Brexit. It certainly is interesting to read that a senior Government Minister is concerned that few UK businesses have prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU single market and customs union[4].  It seems uncharitable to point out that they may be busy addressing other issues. It maybe because people aren’t embracing Brexit with the same enthusiasm as the die-hard supporters in the UK Government. More likely that it’s impossible to drain a swamp when you are up to your eyes in crocodiles. Big COVID-19 crocodiles.

The EU will impose customs controls and checks on goods from the UK from the start of 2021[5].  This is going to be painful for design and manufacturing in the aerospace world. The UK’s growth has already slowed after the 2016 referendum relative to other countries.  Brexit uncertainty has reduced capital investment resulting in lower productivity and output. And all of this was reported before the COVID-19 pandemic[6].

The tragic situation is that, however bad the outcome gets as the year ends, the pandemic will make it exceedingly difficult to estimate the true impact of Brexit on the economy as we go forward. Call me cynical but there’s likely to be UK Conservative Ministers and MPs betting on that situation.

[1] https://www.logodesignlove.com/british-airways-logo-evolution

[2] https://videos.metro.co.uk/video/met/2020/06/25/443726506662150015/640x360_MP4_443726506662150015.mp4

[3] https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/coronavirus-impact-aviation-transport-report/

[4] https://www.cityam.com/michael-gove-concerned-at-how-few-uk-businesses-have-made-brexit-preparations/

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-18/eu-says-it-won-t-ease-customs-controls-on-u-k-after-brexit

[6] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/working-paper/2019/the-impact-of-brexit-on-uk-firms

Aviation, Brexit and COVID19 (ABC) 4

IMG_1622It 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:

  1. 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[1].
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

[1] Royal Aeronautical Society has produced a Brexit Briefing Note #brexit #easa http://ow.ly/Kcx750z7o5n

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

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

Brexit & Aviation 102

UK Prime Minister (PM) Johnson’s Brexit meeting with the European Union’s Juncker was said to be “constructive” and contact between the two sides will now be stepped up.  I must wonder with amassment at this summary given that there are only 44 days left on the clock.  Whatever has been said, there’s been no change over the few days on the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU with or without a deal on 31 October.  In probability terms it looks highly likely.

Meanwhile the PM insists he did not mislead the Queen over suspending Parliament.  As of today, that questionable matter is in front of the highest Court in the land.

We are facing a situation where all the existing Agreements and Regulations derived from EU Treaties will fall on 31 October.  Yes, a new Regulation does address basic contingency measure that will be available for a short period[1] after Brexit day but then it’s the land of the completely unknown.

The implications of Brexit for Britain’s aerospace and aviation sector are looked at by the Royal Aeronautical Society and it doesn’t make for happy reading[2].  Yet, Brexit supporters will continue to talk loudly of scaremongering and so called “project fear”.

Let me not paint a picture that everything in the UK is chaos and everything in the EU is fine and dandy.  The hard facts are that we all have the same problems to confront.  A recent exchange between the European Parliament (EP) and the Executive Director of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on aviation safety showed serious challenges for us all[3].  At least in Brussels, MEPs get to ask questions on aviation safety.  Currently, with a suspended UK Parliament that’s not possible for UK MPs in the UK.

On another subject, commercially Brexit is looking like a bad dream.  Thomas Cook has blamed Brexit uncertainty and the weather for lower bookings and people are now on alert over the airlines possible collapse[4].

If you are a Licensed Engineer and have an EASA Part-66 Licence issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), be sure to check the guidance on whether you will be eligible to work on EU Member State registered aircraft in the event of a No Deal Brexit.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have some good aviation news for a change?  With the Brexit clock ticking to the point of 40 days and 40 nights maybe a change of biblical proportions is coming[5].

[1] Commission considers that this Regulation does not prejudge the nature of the future relationship with the United Kingdom in the area of aviation and that the exercise of competence in the Regulation is temporary and strictly limited to its period of validity.

[2] https://www.aerosociety.com/news/at-brexits-cliff-edge/

[3] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/tran/home.html

[4] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/42d537c0-d719-11e9-b098-ed106f659f8a

[5] Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, Satan came to him and tried to tempt him.

Brexit & Aviation 79

The European Union (EU) has agreed to extend #Article50 a second time.  This could delay any possible #Brexit until 31 October 2019.  What implications will this have on the UK while it remains in the EU?  A British Parliament House of Commons briefing explains the situation.  

The times we are in could never be called normal.  Brexit trundles on laying waste to everything it touches.  At the same time, British MPs go on a jolly Easter holiday as if nothing much is happening.  But political activists on the ground in the UK are busy campaigning vigorously for UK local elections and an almost certain European Parliamentary election.

Over the last week, talking to people in the US, those who are not avoiding the subject are as divided as we are in the UK.  The object of their division is one man.   President Trump is either the best President ever or the source of all a nation’s problems.  The Canadians I spoke to, are confused and mystified by the reported behaviour of the UK.

The event I was attending in Atlanta was run by Aviation Week[1].  They are reporting the substantial impacts of Brexit and there’s nothing positive to say on the subject.   The expectation is that it’s going to be a “difficult summer” to say the least.   The lack of clarity over all aspects of the UK’s current situation remains astonishing.   The danger is that it becomes easier to do business in other Countries and the industry avoids investment in the UK.

To say something positive, it was refreshing to see the UK’s Aerospace Wales[2], a trade body representing the aerospace and defence industries in Wales, was exhibiting in Atlanta.

[1] http://m.aviationweek.com/awincommercial/uk-airlines-airports-already-see-substantial-brexit-impact

[2]  www.aerospacewalesforum.com

 

Brexit & Aviation 76

History gives us a context within which to set current events.  Rooting through some boxes, I came across a copy a UK CAA Safety Regulation Group in-house publication called “Aviation Standard” dated March 1991.  I kept it because it had a picture of me as a newly joined young airworthiness surveyor.  At the time the aviation industry was suffering the effects of recession and the Gulf War.  Pressure was on to keep fees and charges low but not to let up on essential safety activities.

What’s interesting is that 28 years ago the news was that the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) Headquarters was to move from London Gatwick to Hoofddorp, near Amsterdam Schiphol.  The 18 JAA Countries had decided to move from sharing office space with the UK CAA at London Gatwick to a new building in the Netherlands.

The staff newspaper had a large page describing the work of the CAA’s Systems and Equipment Department.  At that time, the department that I joined had 22 specialist design surveyors and supporting admin staff.  There were 5 technical specialist sections, addressing hydromechanical, cabin safety and environmental systems, power plant installation and fuel systems, and electrical and avionics.   This department covered all types of aircraft large and small, helicopters, airships and even hovercraft.

Contrary to the belief of some people, The UK has played a major part in shaping how aviation safety regulation developed in Europe.  What we have is as the result of concerted efforts over more than a generation.  It saddens me greatly to think that we are in the process of trying to dismantle that achievement.  An achievement that is recognised worldwide.

Back to the current challenge of Brexit and how it’s being exacerbated by political indecision and pure folly.  New Aviation Safety legislation has passed into European law ready to come into force if there’s a No-Deal Brexit.   The effects of this law are to create a breathing space so that companies can re-establish the approvals they need to operate.

Also, a new UK Aviation Safety Statutory Instrument (SI) was passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and published as UK law.

The UK industry group; ADS has published a useful summary that is available on their website[1].  No doubt this will be updated as we discover if the planned leaving date of either 12 April 2019 or 22 May 2019 is to happen, or Brexit gets cancelled or delayed again.  Whatever UK Parliamentarian do it doesn’t seem the No-Deal Brexit outcome has yet been killed off for sure.

[1] https://www.adsgroup.org.uk/blog/no-deal-brexit-and-the-state-of-preparatory-aviation-safety-legislation/

 

Brexit & Aviation 68

Steve Bell is an acquired taste.  His cartoons are topical but sharp political satire.   I framed a cartoon of his years ago.  It cruelly depicted the endless march of Liberal Democracy.  The way I remember it was seeing lots of important characters striding purposefully on a staircase that looked like a Möbius strip.   Going round and around.  The cutting point being that lots of energy and industrious activity was going nowhere.

This week has been just like that cartoon depiction but for Conservatives and Labour Party’s.  Walk outs, important meetings, speeches and a flurry of activity but there has been little real progress towards a practical Brexit endgame.  Who would go into a room negotiating and beat yourself up in front of the party across the table?

Now, opening on March 14th is the chance that the UK House of Commons could send UK Prime Minister May back to the EU to request an extension to the Article 50 process.   Even so, it’s not clear what that extra time would be used for even if it was agreed by the EU Member States.

The European Parliament (EP) has 4 plenary sessions when it can ratify the UK Withdrawal Agreement before European elections in late May this year.  If this is not approved at one of those EP sessions, it’s unlikely to be voted on until after the Summer.  An Article 50 extension beyond the end of June 2019 suggest that the UK should take part in European Parliament elections[1].  A mix of interrelated events will always make this last-minute change complex but not impossible.

Extra time would seem to be wise given where we are at this moment.  The latest UK Government publication on the implications for business and trade of a No-Deal exit on 29 March 2019, makes stark reading.  It’s written as a summary document and so detail is missing but the message is one of lack of preparedness (no mention of aviation).  With the votes in the UK Parliament delayed there’s little notice for businesses, employees, investors and communities on what may be the biggest economic and trading change they face in a lifetime.

In aviation, people are moving their approvals and licences to other States.   For example, UK licenced engineers are looking to transfer their UK licences to an EASA Member State.  Not everyone will need to do this and there’s no doubt that a UK license will remain of value around the world.

In addition, some provisions are being made to soften the extremes of an abrupt UK withdrawal, but the effects of a No Deal Brexit will be penalising[2][3].  A so-called World Trade Organisation (WTO) No-Deal Brexit doesn’t exist for civil aviation.

[1] European Parliament elections will begin on 23 May and end on 26 May 2019.

[2] https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/our-work/opinions-information-reports/opinions/aviation-safety-after-brexit

[3] https://www.adsgroup.org.uk/blog/eu-aviation-safety-regulation-for-a-no-deal-brexit/?ref=upflow.co