According to media reports, the UK plans to leave the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) by the end of this year. The BBC quoted State Secretary for Transportation, Grant Shapps, as saying that this would “bring expertise home.” “Wishful thinking” are the first reactions from the industry to Whitehall’s plans.
Why continue to work well together for the benefit of many, if things can be worsened by doing the job alone? Mr. Shapps’ and the Johnson administration’s answer to this: quit EASA and build an independent Aviation Authority under sole UK control which, in the event of legal differences, does not have to comply with the judgment of the European Court of Justice.
A remarkable, ideology-driven step promoted by the Brexiteers in Whitehall, building a new Hadrian's Wall all around Britannia, thus marginalizing the UK’s influence in aerospace matters.
ADS say “NO!”
Toughest opponent to the plans is the UK’s premier trade body Aerospace, Defense, Security & Space (ADS Group), representing 1,100-plus businesses in this sector. It speaks of costs in the region of £40 million per year to beef up UKs Civil Aviation Authority which would be taking over many more responsibilities and tasks but losing international influence. ADS CEO Paul Everitt’s reaction: “We have been clear that continued participation in EASA is the best option to maintain the competitiveness of our £36bn aerospace industry and our access to global export markets.”
However, there is doubt that the ADS’ arguments will be heard.
111,000 jobs could be affected
Addressing Whitehall directly, Mr. Everitt demands safeguarding the jobs of 111,000 people working across the UK within the Aerospace industry, such as those of the 13,500 Airbus staff at Broughton, Wales, who assemble the wings of all aircraft variants manufactured by the European plane maker. Besides passenger versions, this also includes production freighters such as the A330-200F and possibly the A350 all-cargo aircraft, provided the Toulouse bosses give their go-ahead for this type.
This all leads to the cui bono question: who benefits from UK’s EASA exit?
Should Mr. Shapps’ plans be put into practice, and there is little doubt that this will not happen, the consequences for most areas in aviation will be drastic, to put it mildly. These areas include: aircraft design, aircraft production, including highly secret military aerospace programs, maintenance/MRO and airworthiness issues, Flight Crew Licensing, Air Traffic Control matters, licensing and supervision of air carriers, certification of aerodromes / airports, complying with the airspace structure and its SERA rules (Standardized European Rules of the Air), to name but a few out of a long list of existing and EU-wide harmonized contractual agreements.
Mr. Shapps says that he wants to poach the British experts in EASA (“return to the Empire”) in order to add their expertise to UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to beef CAA up. A lenient threat to Cologne-based EASA, because the EU has terminated their legal framework on aerospace matters by and large, and audits in EU member states on behalf of EASA can also be carried out by local experts, replacing their British colleagues.
So, the question hard core Brexiteers like Shapps, Johnson et alia should raise is: who benefits from abandoning this fine-tuned legal framework? The answer is very clear: certainly not British pilots, air traffic controllers, airlines and engine manufacturers such as Rolls Royce. They all would need new licenses, a new AOC, new certifications, etc. A costly and time-consuming exercise. Or they build production sites and establish firms within the EU to bypass the consequences of an EASA exit.
Once the split has come into force, UK pilots will have to get national licenses in order to be admitted for flying an EU licensed aircraft. The same applies to air traffic controllers and aircraft manufacturers.
BREXIT spells British Regulation EXIT
Aviation experts hold that before leaving EASA for good, the Secretary for Transportation and his followers would be well advised to speak with the four non-EU member states Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, to find out why they voluntarily joined EASA and adopted the organization’s regulations. Their doing is very simple: because it is extremely beneficial for them. This also applies to Georgia, Moldavia, Montenegro, and Serbia, who are waiting to join EASA - because they expect nothing but advantages: for both sides. Turkey, too, voluntarily adopted many EU regulations in the aviation sector.
The UK’s alternative, mentioned by the Secretary of Transportation in his advance, is to negotiate a bilateral aerospace agreement with the EU, similar to the Brazilian, Canadian, or U.S. model. However, this will take half a dozen years or maybe more, as history shows.
Good luck, time is running out.
Here is a list of all currently valid EU regulations in aviation:
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