You can apply this to health, transport, and a multitude of successful industries.

When the subject of staff shortages, and generally that’s qualified staff shortages, comes up, and a government minister is put in the spotlight the answer that comes back is no more than evasion. It’s a shrug of the shoulders and an irritated retort along the lines that Brexit has happened. They may go for the sympathy vote in emphasising how hard the last six years have been in Parliament. What follows is a vague illusion to the opportunities that are now available to the UK because of Brexit. 

What’s sad, is they will then quote a small step that has benefited the UK but then neglect to say that such a step should have happened regardless of Brexit. The lack of intellectual rigour is growing. Conservatives are so deeply embedded in the Brexit mirage that they readily clutch at straws. This constant blindness hinders access to the real opportunities. The real opportunity is to move on.

If the UK is to be best positioned to exploit the new technologies that are advancing rapidly, we need to rediscover partnerships. We are well positioned, given the history of the post-war period, to be a significant player in the technology-based industries. UK academia has a lot to offer too.

It’s a global marketplace. That means there’s the need for people to move. Not always permanently, but to move to best use their specialise knowledge and skills. In that pattern of movement, we should not have unnecessary restrictions for British people to work in Europe, or the reverse.

There are lots of people and organisations that want to do trade with the UK. What they don’t want is the stone wall of British politicians who echo thin Brexit rhetoric at every opportunity. There’s also a mindless compulsion to be different for the sake of being different. British pragmatism has been submerged under a shadow of the last six years.

There’s some light over the horizon. Certainly, amongst most of the public there’s a dismissal of sloppy Brexit benefit agreements. There’s a groan. Our collective experience shows that sloppy political thinking falls into ruin when faced with reality. A General Election will be welcome. It needs to be a generational election. That should mean a sea change in the population of Members of Parliament. Let’s see a new generation stand and get elected.


The issue is how far do you go and who makes the decision as to what’s relevant?

Investigation is about learning. In every crisis, accident, or major event some things will be done well, and things will be done badly. In essence a good investigation needs to extract, from all the available information, the lessons to be learned. Putting on record what happened and why will help those who face future events.

If there’s a role in apportioning blame or liability it needs to be made explicit. The problem is obvious. Inclination to avoid blame or liability may motivate contributors to an investigation to be less than frank or cooperative with the process. Independence and respect for privacy can help alleviate fears that information could be misused.

An inquiry, or investigation needs a complete narrative of what happened and when. It’s a fundamental part of establishing the grounds on which the process can proceed to a conclusion. If that narrative is inaccurate or missing information or manipulated the results of the end process may be deemed questionable.

The bizarre situation of the moment is that of a government, who sets-up an inquiry is fighting that same inquiry. Defending the government’s decision to hold back certain information, the argument is put forward that some information is “unambiguously irrelevant”.

Most of us would agree that Boris Johnson’s shoe size might be deemed irrelevant. The issue is how far do you go and who makes the decision as to what’s relevant? Should a party under investigation, namely the government, be the entity to make the decisions on relevance?

For the sake of objectivity, I’d say that it’s for the leader of an inquiry or investigation to determine what’s relevant. To argue against that position is to suggest some potential indiscretion or failure of the process may result in unnecessary embarrassment of those making submissions. That demonstration of suspicion and lack of faith in the inquiry or investigation process may go some way to undermine its purpose.

The Cabinet Office would do well to consider if it’s serious about learning lessons from the COVID pandemic. What is certain is that there will be another global pandemic. Now, that may not be for a decade or several decades, but it’s inevitable. Better the country be prepared. Better there be prevention of avoidable errors. 

POST: Boris Johnson at risk of losing Covid inquiry legal funding, Whitehall warns | Financial Times (

Happy Birthday EASA

Happy Birthday EASA. 20 years is a good age

For me, it was a peculiar day in July. It was a baking hot Brussels. The sun beat down and the city’s trams were full of sweaty travellers. The interview room was a classic board room style. Modern office, heavy polished wooden table, and heavy black leather chairs. On a hot bright sunny summer day that was not a pleasing formula for a formal interview.

I was surprised at the result. I got the job. A moment in July 2004 became a pivotal moment in my aviation career. Not quite 20-years ago. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)[1] was already up and running in a shared office in a Brussels suburb. It was the bare bones of an organisation in the process of a rapid build-up. Discussion about the locations of the Agency’s eventual headquarters were concluding.

That kicked-off my 11-years in Cologne. I arrived in the city when the tower building was being constructed and as the staff had just moved from Brussels to take up the new headquarters. It was December 2004. Offices, on the 6th floor of the main building were buzzing. The Agency was small in numbers and running fast to fulfil its new responsibilities.

European aviation safety regulation was going through a major change. Up until September 2003, Europe’s National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) acted as a partnership within the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA)[2]. A body of rules and regulations and ways of working had been harmonised. However, because of the “club” like nature of the JAA there remained unresolved disagreements, incontinences, and a confusing representation at international level.

The legislation that called for the formation of EASA was set to unify aircraft certification and rulemaking activities and drive a consistency in the application of standards across Europe. It was the start of a long road to build world-class civil aviation safety regulator. It worked.

I experienced the first decade in Cologne. The storming and norming. The extensions of remit and turbulent days when we were finding our way. Several tragic fatal accidents and a least one Europe wide crisis. Now, the Agency is about to start its third decade.

EASA is undisputed as the European organisation that talks to the international aviation community. It works in lockstep with the European Commission. It is an achievement to be celebrated.

Yes, I find it sad that the UK is no longer a member of the Agency. But that doesn’t stop National Aviation Authorities (NAAs) working together in a constructive and positive manner[3]. There’s much to be gained from avoiding the fragmentation and conflicts of the past.

Happy Birthday EASA. 20 years is a good age.

[1] What’s #EASA’s story? See what we have achieved in 20 years…/looking-back-move-forward…



Why become an engineer?

At times in our lives there are choices to be made. That is if you are lucky enough to be able to make those choices. What courses to study at different stages of youth, is a big question. My story has more pragmatism that idealism. I was a great deal better at maths, physics, and geography than history or english langauage. Underlying that was as much interest as natural ability. It wasn’t so much a typical divide between the arts and humanities and science and technology. I enjoyed art. I’d say it’s having more of a graphical mind than a one that’s tunned to langauage and words.

I had a fascination with machinery. Growing-up on a farm I had plenty of opportunities to work with machinery. Taking engines apart and fixing anything and everything that needed fixing. What I found frustrating was the make-do-and-mend approach. It’s the classic agricultural attempt to fixing everything with 6-inch nails or baler twine. When money is tight, it’s a question of keeping machinery going for as long as possible before having a big bill or to chuck it away.

It was evident that small family livestock farming wasn’t for me. That feeling gave me more incentive to study. I left school at 16 yrs. with a moderate number of exams under my belt. What to do wasn’t clear but it wasn’t an open book either. I applied for apprenticeships within commuting distance of home. Local engineering employers of the time, Westland helicopter in Yeovil, Racal in Wells and Plessey Marine in Templecombe were targeted with letters from me. That’s the businesses of aircraft, radar, or sonar.

I’m a great believer in serendipity. Events come together by chance and an outcome can be better than might have been imagined. In 1976, I got a positive response from Plessey Marine Research Unit (PMRU). That year, the company sponsored two apprentices. Me being one of them.

Westland helicopter had a large long-established apprentice training school. A couple of my school mates ended up in Yeovil. Then, so did I but at Yeovil college. It ran an Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB)[1] training programme. This gave a bunch of 16-year-olds their first exposure to machine tools. The 48-week programme was much more. Some skills are life skills, that like riding a bike, are not forgotten. Today, I can still make a reasonable decent weld.

Training within PMRU was a series of placements moving from department to department. Although I was employed as a drawing office trainee there were other possibilities opened. The mix included a day-release to continuing studying.

Back to the original question. Why be an engineer?

There were professional engineers I worked with, and who mentored me, who did much more than put up with a curious local youth. They were inspiring. I wanted to do what they did. I wanted to understand design. I wanted to know the theory behind Sonar systems. Those steppingstones in the years between 16 and 18 are of immense importance. My opportunity to cultivate fascination drove my motivation to study. It worked. It set me on a path.

It’s one thing to put STEM[2] in schools. It’s another to give students real experience, of real work in real workplaces. Both are needed.


[2] Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) the umbrella term used to group together the distinct technical disciplines.


So, why might artificial intelligence (AI) be so dangerous in a free society?

Democracy depends upon information being available to voters. Ideally, this would be legal, decent, and honest information. All too often the letter of the law may be followed whilst shaping a message to maximise its appeal to potential supporters. Is it honest to leave out chunks of embarrassing information for the one nugget that makes a politician look good? We make our own judgement on that one. We make a judgement assuming that outright lying is a rare case.

During key elections news can travel fast and seemingly small events can be telescoped into major debacles. I’m reminded of the remark made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown[1] when he thought the media’s microphones were dead. In 2010, when an aide asked: What did she say? Gordon Brown was candid in his reply. It’s an occasion when the honest thoughts of a PM on the campaign trail popped into the public domain and livened up that election coverage considerably.

What’s concerning about AI[2] is that, in the hands of a “bad actor,” such events could be faked[3] extremely convincingly. Since the fast pace of election campaigning leaves never enough time for in-depth technical investigations there’s a chance that fake events can sway people before they are uncovered. The time between occurrence and discovery need only be a few days. Deep fakes are moving from amateur student pranks to the tools of propagandists.

Misinformation happens now, you might say. Well, yes it does, and we do need people to fact-check claims and counter claims on a regular basis. However, we still depend on simple techniques, like a reporter or member of the public asking a question. It’s rather a basic in format.

This leaves the door open for AI to be used to produce compelling fakes. Sometimes, all it needs is to inject or eliminate one word from a recording or live event. The accuracy and speed of complex algorithms to provide seamless continuity is new. It can be said that we are a cynical lot. For all the protest of fakery that a politician may make after an exposure there will be a plenty of people who will not accept any subsequent debunking.

My example is but a simple one. There’s a whole plethora of possibilities when convincing fake pictures, audio and videos are only a couple of keyboard stokes away.

Regulatory intervention by lawmakers may not be easy but it does need some attention. In terms of printed media, that is election leaflets there are strict rules. Same with party political broadcasts.

Being realistic about the risks posed by technology is not to shut it down altogether. No, let’s accept that it will become part of our lives. At the same time, using that technology for corrupt purposes obviously needs to be stamped on. Regulatory intervention is a useful way of addressing heightened risks. Some of our 19th century assumptions about democracy need a shake-up. 





Semiconductor superpower. Where have I heard that before? Let’s go back to the moment when the silicon revolution was a topic of popular conversations. Today, as much as people are speaking of AI. It has been difficult to accept that Moore’s Law is real. Early on, the notion that the number of transistors on a microchip would double every two years seemed far fetched.

I remember the 1980s, and the privatisation drive that effectively gave away the country’s technology crown jewels. UK semiconductor manufacturers of the 1980s such as GEC, Plessey, Ferranti and Inmos waned or sold-up[1]. Policy makers of that time saw globalisation as risk free. Now, that looks like selling off the family silver.

At the time, silicon chips were predicted to kill off a substantial percentage of white colour jobs. Only a few people saw the potential for massive new industries to spring-up and employ large numbers of new workers. It’s true that the jobs created were, on the whole, quite different from the ones they displaced. Admin work in a giant insurance office is miles from that of a being an on-line games developer, tester, or marketer.

My point is that Government intervention in technology hasn’t got a good record. That’s not an argument for a hands-off approach. That too has proven to have negative outcomes. I’m often tempted to go back to the story of videotape and VHS against Betamax[2] The better technology is not always the one that wins in the global marketplace. Boring reality and dull pragmatic considerations can tip the balance.

The record shows Government Ministers get swayed by the whizzy, super advanced, “superpower” labels that get stuck on the latest promotion. Let’s face it, a photo opportunity next to an exciting futuristic image gets the media’s heart beating. Marketing hype is not new. It has a role in druming-up investments in risky ventures.

Unquestionable is the intense level of competition in the global semiconductor marketplace. If the UK is to be taken seriously when billions of dollars are placed on the table by others there really must be a matching offer. One billion over a decade will end up getting spread as thin as oil on water. A strong collaboration with other, who have common interests would help. Let’s not forget that doing the “dull stuff” can be highly profitable too.

The open market, in deals of the past, has seen a concentration of power. This is not good for a medium sized country on the edge of a continent. Inward investment is to be welcomed. At the same time strategic domestic protections should have a place. Investments in domestic technology capabilities secures a future.




Brexit “outrage” as The Express newspaper put it. Headlines like this are signs of shear desperation. It seems every time something goes wrong, which it regularly does, the call comes out from Brexit supporters – it must be Remainers or the House of Commons or Lords or civil servants or large corporations or lefty liberals thwarting the great Brexit plan. Noting, of course, that there never was a plan in the first place.

“Take Back Control” has become the hollowest political slogan in British history. Rather than dimming the light of fervent Brexit advocates these repeated setbacks just pump them up. This kind of thinking is both sad and dangerous. It has a deep flavour of paranoia.

This month, shocks from the Conservative Party’s council election meltdown are another trigger for the political right to agitate. Shouting: bring back Boris Johnson is unsurprising. The dreamy magical thinking is that because he delivered a big parliamentary majority in 2019, somehow, he, and he alone, can do the same in 2024. Other conservatives are positioning themselves for the next run at being Prime Minister.

I’m not one to totally dismiss the Johnson proposition. Naturally, it would be calamitous and beyond reason but that has not been an impenetrable barrier since 2016. Brexit, as a happening, delights in causing chaos. There’re political thinkers who invite chaos and disruption to free potentially creative energies. They’re not a bit concerned about the impact of that approach on the average person.

Brexit continues to hobble aviation in UK. A large percentage of the people who worked in UK aviation, before the COVID pandemic, were EU nationals. A lot have gone. Now, it’s often the case that when EU nationals apply for jobs in the UK, the aviation industry must turn them down[1].

The legislative proposal to remove retained EU laws has created yet more uncertainty for UK’s aviation sector. The threat remains regardless that it may be in the process of being watered down. Debates in the House of Lords focused on democratic scrutiny of the process where significant changes are planned[2]. Ministers continue to wish to use arbitrary powers to make changes. There’s ambition in the policies advanced while, at the same time, there’s a wish to look all ways at once.

For a lot of aviation topics, the UK has stated it will continue to use European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules and guidance. Although, this is eminently sensible in an international setting it does suggest that Brexit benefits, if they exist at all, have been greatly overstated.

Given the tabloid media jitters seen in recent headlines, it’s perfectly clear that Brexit is a million miles from being “done”. A bad idea remains a bad idea, however it’s dressed up.

Expect turbulence right up to the next General Election. Change is not assured. People will have to campaign hard to make it happen. In comment on the change of the crown, “The country is in a waiting room” said historian Simon Schama.

[1] One major airline – We have had to turn down a huge number [8,000] of EU nationals because of Brexit. Another has blamed the British government’s post-Brexit immigration constraints on the labour market for fuelling staff shortages.



I know this is not a new issue to raise but it is enduring. Years go by and nothing much changes. One of the reasons that “engineering” is poorly represented in the UK is that its voice is fragmented.

I could do a simple vox pop. Knock on a random door and ask – who speaks for engineers in the UK. The likelihood is that few would give an answer, let alone name an organisation. If I asked who speaks for doctors, those in the know would say the BMA[1]. If I asked who speaks for lawyers, most would answer the law society[2]. I dare not ask who represents accountants.

Professional engineering institution have an important role. That’s nice and easy to say, in-fact all the ones that are extant do say so. Supporting professional development is key to increasing access to engineering jobs. It’s spokespersons, specialist groups and networking opportunities can provide visibility of the opportunities in the profession.

So, why are there so many different voices? There’s a great deal of legacy. An inheritance from bygone eras. I see lots of overlap in the aviation and aerospace industries. There’re invitations in my in-box to events driven by IET[3], IMECHE, Royal Aero Society and various manufacturing, software, safety, and reliability organisations.

The variety of activities may serve specialist niches, but the overall effect is to dilute the impact the engineering community has on our society. Ever present change means that new specialist activities are arising all the time. It’s better to adapt and include these within existing technical institutions rather than invent new ones.

What’s the solution? There have been amalgamations in the past. Certainly, where there are significant overlaps between organisations then amalgamation maybe the best way forward.

There’s the case for sharing facilities. Having separate multiple technical libraries seems strange in the age of the connected device. Even sharing buildings needs to be explored.

Joint activities do happen but not to the extent that could fully exploit the opportunities that exits.

If the UK wishes to increase the number of competent engineers, it’s got to re-think the proliferation of different institutions, societies, associations, groupings, and licencing bodies.  

To elevate the professional status of engineering in our society we need organisations that have the scale and range to communicate and represent at all levels. Having said the above, I’m not hopeful of change. Too many vested interests are wedded to the status-quo. We have both the benefits of our Victorian past and the milestone of that grand legacy. 





There’s nothing wrong with making an argument for deregulation. What’s absurd is to make that argument as an unchallengeable dogma. It’s the irrationality of saying that deregulation is good, and regulation is bad, de-facto. This kind of unintelligent nonsense does permeate a particular type of right-wing political thinking. It pops it’s head up in a lot of Brexiters utterances. For advocates of Brexit their great goal is to throw away rules and lower standards. Mostly, this is for financial gain.

Let’s take some simple examples. The reasons for rules and regulations can often be found in recent history. Hazards are recognised and action is taken.

There’s still lead paint to be found in many older houses. There was a time when such paint was used on children’s toys. Toy safety has been a confusing area of law, and there have been several sets of regulations since the 1960. From our current perspective this past laxness seems insane, but such lead paint mixtures were commonplace. In fact, all sorts of toxic chemicals have been used in widely used paints.

I remember working in one factory building where a survey was done of the surrounding grounds. Outside certain windows there were small fluorescent flags placed at in the grass verges. They marked places where minor amounts of radiation had been detected. This came from discarded paint brushes and tins that had accumulated in the war years. At that time radioactive luminescent paint was used to paint aircraft instrument dials.

Any arguments for the deregulation of toxic chemicals in commonly used paints should be one that is quashed instantly. However, some deregulation fanatics are only to happy to endorse a loosening of the rules that protect the public from toxic chemicals.

One result of the loosening of public protection is often to put greater profits in the hands of unscrupulous industrialist. Across the globe there are numerous cases studies of this sad folly. Newspapers and political parties that push the line that rules, regulations and regulators, by their very nature are crushing our freedoms are as bad as those unscrupulous industrialists.

Yes, there’s a case to be made for pushing back over-regulation. There’s risks we are prepared to take where the risks are low, and the benefits are large. This is a matter for intelligent debate and not throwing around mindless slogans. We should not be cowed by loud voices from small corners of society intent on tearing down decades of learning and sound practical laws. I could come up with an encyclopaedic list of examples. Opponents rarely, if ever want to address a particular case since it’s much easier for them to thunder off sweeping assertions. Beware these siren voices.

NOTE: The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011 implemented the requirements of Directive 2009/48/EC, whose purpose is to ensure a high level of toy safety.


Any study about “change” will tell you that it’s not easy. Take a few of the big social transformations that have occurred over the last six decades. I can’t point to one that just happened without a campaign or fight. Social and political change comes when momentum has built-up. Pressure is needed. Often that pressure comes in the form of protest and extensive campaigning in public.

As ever faster digital connections are becoming universal, it’s still possible to buy physical digital media. Charity shops have piles and piles of CDs and DVDs as people off-load the stuff that clutters their shelves. It’s remarkable that yesterday’s whizzy new thing has become a historic artefact so quickly[1]. In 40-years, the optical digital disk has risen and then faded into the background.

I picked up a little bit of social history in a Red Cross charity shop. It’s a series of 3 DVDs that captures a slice of the career of the well-known journalist and broadcaster Alan Whicker. Stretching over six decades of travelling around the globe it’s a great watch. The series is called “Journey of a Lifetime” and was published in 2009[2]. Although, there’s plenty that dates Whicker’s documentary style there’s no doubt that his ability to quickly summing up big changes is a masterclass.

That straightforward diction and incongruous club jacket became a trademark. It gave him a neutral camouflage so he could talk eye-to-eye with hippies, dictators, evangelists, social campaigners, film stars and dubious gurus. That’s what created so many revealing conversations that are now time stamped as emblematic of an era. I recommend viewing the Whicker’s reflections on six decades of social history. It’s a great reminder of where we have been and how learning the lessons of the past is so difficult.

Back to my initial subject – change. It’s easy to say that it’s inevitable and unrelenting but its nature is less easy to discern. Change undulates. We go forwards then we go backwards in differing amounts.

I have a theory that our social progression can be plotted like an inclined wood saw. Yes, I know. It’s the engineer in me. Look at the shape of the saw’s teeth. They go forwards, and then quickly go backwards but they always go backwards less than they go forwards. That’s how a saw’s teath cut.

This is one of my abstrat reasons why the UK Government’s most recent laws to supress public protest are as stupid as political debate can get. Resisting change is nothing new. After all, the word “conservative” has a simple commonplace meaning. When all else fails, the basic political instinct to push out laws that comfort supporters is built in. As a direction for a whole country to take, this way of working is foolish and naive.

Locking up climate change protestors is not going to fix climate change. Locking up protestors against sewage on beaches and in rivers not going to fix greedy water companies. Locking up republican protestors is not going to fix the decline in public support for the monarchy.

Using the pretext that – this is what the public want – as a cover for these policies is to show the vacuum that conservative political thinking is thrashing around in. Sadly, as I’ve said, reflection on the last six decades of conservative thinking shows regressive tendencies in abundance.