It is not exactly news that UK–based airlines are nervous about the form future commercial air transport bilateral agreements with the EU will take after brexit.
This not so much a fear that no agreement can be reached, but more a fear of the lack of clarity about potential agreement choices, and the relentless ticking of clocks as the March 2019 deadline looms.
The UK will have to set up bilateral aviation agreements with the EU as a whole, not individual member states, because the EU system works as a single air travel market.
Much less clear at this stage is how British airlines like EasyJet will be able to win clearance to continue flying between points in continental Europe. In fact EasyJet has set up an Austria-based subsidiary to deal with this, and depending on what kind of agreement the UK eventually makes with the EU post brexit, that may supplant the carrier’s Luton headquarters as its de facto administrative hub.
But it is not only airlines that are nervous about the situation. The UK’s aerospace trade association ADS has just stated that the industry is “counting on [UK government] negotiators to make sure the UK remains in the European Aviation Safety Agency” (EASA) following its exit from the EU.
The release of this statement was prompted by a speech in Vienna on 20 February by David Davis, the UK’s Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, ostensibly clarifying the kind of relationship with the EU the UK anticipates having with the European Union and the rest of the world after brexit,
Clearly aiming his statement at the UK government, ADS Chief Executive Paul Everitt explained: “Aerospace is a global business that benefits from international regulatory convergence, which both ensures passenger safety and offers frictionless access for companies of all sizes to markets around the world. Regulation of the aerospace industry across Europe by EASA has served passengers and industry well. With the UK an influential member of EASA, companies in the aerospace sector continue to benefit from requiring only a single set of certifications for their personnel, facilities and products.”
Meanwhile EASA’s executive director Patrick Ky, replying to a question about the kind of relationship that EASA is able to have with the UK if the latter becomes “a third country” by leaving the EU, has said that Britain has choices: it could have a close relationship with EASA like Switzerland and Norway where regulatory alignment is complete, or like the USA and Canada in which the parties meet regularly for the purpose of maintaining regulatory harmonisation, and having done so generally agree to respect most of each other’s regulatory standards.
Everitt added: “Continued regulatory harmonisation is a necessity and the UK must remain in EASA after Brexit to put ourselves in the best possible position to benefit from growth opportunities as the international aviation market continues to expand.” US FAA standards and those of EASA are the two most widely accepted – and imitated – aviation standards globally.
In his speech, Davis acknowledged a fact rarely mentioned by UK pro-brexit politicians, which is that industries and nations are increasingly agreeing global standards. The fact that many of those standards were set by the EU is politically unpalatable for the hard-line pro-brexit lobby. Davis also used his speech to deny firmly that Britain would lead a “race to the bottom” in industrial standards and employment rights, insisting instead that it would lead a “race to the top”.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority has been reluctant to comment on its role in a future relationship with EASA, saying it is a question for the Department for Transport. Ky says that EASA has no plan to diminish the oversight role of individual national aviation authorities, but he worries that governments appear to see the high standards of industry safety performance being achieved today as a chance to cut back on oversight resources, which they are doing. One result of this, says Ky, is that – increasingly – NAAs are approaching EASA to ask the agency to provide them with support.