Deep and special partnership with the EU must extend to civil aviation regulation

Posted On: 
20th September 2017

Decision-makers must understand the complexities of aviation regulation so that the hard-cultivated benefits of European co-operation are not lost, says the Royal Aeronautical Society's Head of External Affairs Simon Whalley.

Post-Brexit it will be to the UK’s advantage to develop its world-class aviation sector, says Simon Whalley.
Credit: 
PA Images

When the Prime Minister flies to Florence to give her landmark Brexit speech on Friday, she might reflect on the fact the aircraft she is flying on has probably been safety certificated by an EU body – the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). With no clarity from the Government yet, but sorely needed, on the UK’s future status within the European regulator, Simon Whalley, Head of External Affairs at the Royal Aeronautical Society, considers the current situation and post-Brexit options available.

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

Decision-makers must understand the complexities of aviation regulation so that the hard-cultivated benefits of European co-operation are not lost in a Brexit deal, or lack of.  A new paper produced by the Royal Aeronautical Society independent experts – Civil Aviation Regulation: What Future after Brexit? – might help.

Aerospace is today an international industry, with supply chains and air links across the globe. 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. Inextricably close regulatory co-operation through EASA facilitates the free movement of UK products and services, not just within Europe but worldwide.

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.

Far from diminishing UK influence in global aviation, EASA provides a conduit for UK impact on aviation safety and security within Europe and beyond on behalf of UK passengers flying around the world. In fact, the UK has been a driving force of European alignment on regulatory matters. Its absence would be sorely missed.

Post-Brexit it will be to the UK’s advantage to develop its world-class aviation sector. Effective safety requirements will be needed to achieve this. Crucially, according to the US aviation regulator, a full set of regulations must be in place by 20 March 2019 to preserve industrial, air travel and safety continuity.

So, what options for the UK? The Government could negotiate full membership of EASA. Alternatively, an off-the-shelf option is available, as Switzerland and Norway have chosen, providing similar benefits to full membership. These would be the most desirable means of retaining UK influence on European and global rule-making processes.

The UK could theoretically repatriate all regulatory powers to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, though in a speech last year the CAA Chief Executive himself was not convinced by this approach.  Given the time left for negotiations, a return to national oversight would require extensive transitional arrangements, something the Prime Minister might broadly elaborate on in Italy.  ADS estimates that it could take up to a decade and an extra 300 specialists, none of which are guaranteed to be available, to equip the CAA to take back EASA responsibilities.

Outside EASA, even if the UK continued to mirror EU rules, there would be inevitable divergence through interpretation, leading to unhelpful barriers to trade, compromising safety improvement and diminishing UK influence with a set of rules that might not be recognised abroad.

If a UK renaissance after Brexit is the desired outcome, continued close co-operation with Europe on civil aviation regulation through EASA would achieve it.