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Aviation: Back to Brexit

With the UK’s political leaders running around like headless chickens trying to justify their disparate views on Britain’s exit from the EU, The Aviation Oracle thought it worthwhile to return briefly to the subject of Brexit and to review the latest state of play as far as air transport is concerned.

Since the subject was last discussed, a 26 page political declaration has been issued as a supporting document to the earlier 585 page withdrawal agreement. This latter text “…establishes the parameters of an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defense and wider areas of cooperation.”

All good then, as unlike the larger work aviation is mentioned. It is however only a framework – a starting point that establishes the principles both sides aim to adopt and it therefore not a foregone conclusion. So what does it actually say about aviation?

  • The Parties [the EU and the UK] should ensure passenger and cargo air connectivity through a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA). The CATA should cover market access and investment, aviation safety and security, air traffic management, and provisions to ensure open and fair competition, including appropriate and relevant consumer protection requirements and social standards.

So there’s an agreement to be hammered out over the next two years or so, which it seems both sides expect will settle most of the areas of concern for intra-Europe air travel. Issues such as UK airlines flying across Europe (and vice versa), airline funding and ownership, even our rights to compensation when we are delayed, are up for debate. The framework does not propose an outcome, but I hope we can all support the concept of things post-Brexit remaining broadly as they are now for the ongoing business of transporting passengers and goods by air.

There’s further pointers too, in the regulatory area:

  • The Parties should make further arrangements to enable cooperation with a view to high standards of aviation safety and security, including through close cooperation between EASA and the United Kingdom's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

This seems to imply – despite what was previously thought – that the UK will not remain in EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency), but instead both sides will aim for an alignment or commonality in EU and UK regulations which would aid mutual recognition. Hopefully matters such as common aircrew training and licence recognition, aircraft certification and safety standards will not be compromised. It certainly doesn’t follow that pilots, cabin crew or engineers will be able to work freely anywhere in Europe. Indeed some are scrambling to convert their UK-based qualification into their European equivalents ahead of march next year when the process is likely to become much less straight forward.

That’s about it for aviation in the political declaration although it’s good to learn that visa-free travel, at least for short holidays and business trips, is likely to be preserved. There are some other issues though, chief among which are the EU’s bilateral air service agreements with countries outside the union. There will be no commitment for the UK to remain inside a Europe-wide negotiating body when it comes to air services extending outside the region, and indeed it is perhaps unreasonable to expect the EU cares about the UK’s future access to long-haul air markets. But the problem remains – will other countries such as the USA give UK airlines the same access as they already give to European airlines? It’s a two-way street of course, and I don’t expect London to New York flights to suddenly stop next March and the good news is a new UK-US bilateral may be signed as soon as next week (more on that when it happens maybe, as there could be implications for UK airlines). In any case there’s negotiating to be done elsewhere, and when it comes to new agreements I can’t help wondering whether there is strength in numbers.

What next?

With the outcome of the House of Commons vote scheduled for December 11 far from a foregone conclusion, the question remains: what if the deal isn’t approved by parliament?

No doubt in the following days a lot of political manoeuvring and potentially Theresa May or her successor returning to the negotiating table to try again. The EU has already said it’s this or nothing though. Maybe they will bend a bit further if the EU exit bill does not pass smoothly. But the prospect remains – if the Commons rejects the deal, Britain may exit the EU next year without a deal.

The political declaration outlines areas of future co-operation and coordination between the EU and the UK. The ‘deal’ incorporates the shared objectives of continued access across the European air transport market, fair competition, mutual respect of standards, and ongoing consumer protection. If that’s what a deal includes, what does ‘no deal’ mean?

Text © The Aviation Oracle

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