Lord Chidgey: Trade in aerospace products will pay sky high price for Brexit uncertainty

Posted On: 
17th January 2018

Lord Chidgey warns that transatlantic trade in aerospace products will become more costly for industry unless the Government outlines how UK aviation will be regulated post-Brexit, ahead of his Oral Question later today.

PA Images

Today I am asking the Government what reassurance they can provide the US aviation regulator, who have given Ministers less than a month now, to provide clarity on their intentions for the regulation of UK aviation after Brexit, or face the prospect of the application of highly expensive contingency plans on UK industry.

Currently, the UK is a full member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which administers common aviation safety regulations across the European Union (EU).  The EU has a bilateral agreement in place with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that allows mutual acceptance of aerospace product safety standards.

Today, EASA and the FAA are the two pre-eminent civil aviation regulators in the world.  Aerospace companies based in countries without regulatory compliance with EASA or the FAA find selling aerospace products and providing aviation services to the US and EU, and some other countries outside their jurisdiction, difficult, costly and subject to additional work.

The UK will not be part of EASA once it ceases to be an EU Member State and must put in place an alternative regime, unless the Government negotiates continued membership of the Agency by March 2019.  In the meantime, and without a certain picture of the Government’s plans, the FAA will start work imminently to put in place contingency plans based on ‘multiple potential scenarios’, including recertifying 170 UK repair stations.

Unless the Government commits to full membership or complete replication of EASA rules post-Brexit, and avoids creating a ‘whole new system’ – which is not advocated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority – UK aerospace manufacturers, maintenance facilities and airlines will have to pay for regulatory compliance with the FAA to enable their products to be fitted to US-certified aircraft. 

The alternative, hard to countenance, might involve UK aircraft being flown to other countries with US approved facilities to be fixed.

The hard-cultivated benefits of European co-operation should not be lost in a Brexit deal, or lack of, or due to inertia.  A report produced by the Royal Aeronautical Society last September – Civil Aviation Regulation: What Future after Brexit? – provides a clear analysis of the complex area of technical and safety regulation of aviation and aerospace, setting out the options available to the UK post-Brexit.

Harmonised rules across the Union have been positive for the aviation industry.  A single European certification requirement for aerospace products has reduced the costs of development and production, supporting the success of the European, including UK, aerospace industry in the international marketplace.  Common aviation regulations in Europe have been positive for aviation safety not only in Europe, but on a global level too, providing a conduit for UK influence on international standards.

Aerospace is today a global industry, with supply chains and air links across the world.  For this major contributor to the UK economy to operate with maximum efficiency, it requires a common set of rules that reduces the need for national barriers that harm international competitiveness.

Through a high, consistent level of aviation safety across Europe, the number of accidents and fatalities has fallen over the years; indeed, flight safety levels around the world benefit from European co-operation and EASA leadership jointly with the US in defining and implementing global standards, with the UK a driving force of European alignment on regulatory matters.

Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, has hinted that the UK is likely to remain a member of EASA which should be music to the US Administrator’s ears.  The UK and FAA seem not so far apart in their desire for EU/UK regulatory alignment. For the sake of the success of one of our key industries, greater clarity of intent now by the UK Government could see off the completely avoidable application of unhelpful costs and barriers to trade that would otherwise put this key economic sector at a competitive disadvantage.

Lord Chidgey is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords