UK aviation industry unhappy with loss of EASA membership

Brexit, the political process which saw Britain’s ‘exit’ from the European Union after a vote in 2016 and finally became a reality in January 2020, has caused concern for the aviation industry in the UK and Europe . Even trying to put aside the bitter ‘Stay’ versus ‘Leave’ positions that still divide British voters, there is no doubt that Brexit has complicated trading conditions for original equipment manufacturers, airlines , airports and MROs in the UK and USA. EU. In particular, the process of issuing approvals and licenses is likely to remain complicated for some time to come.

Given the intense political divisions over Brexit in the UK, most aviation executives seem reluctant to comment publicly on what it means for the industry. However, speaking off the record, many are clearly unhappy that the treatment of the sector has taken place along political lines rather than practical considerations so important to the smooth running of the aviation complex.

The hopes of British airlines and other airlines that the UK would remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) would be dashed. The “exit day” took place on January 31, 2020, followed by a transition period until December 31 of the same year, when EASA membership ended. A Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) came into force in early 2021 and provided protocols that would oversee trade relations between the UK and the EU, including a 26-page section on aviation.

The UK’s departure from EASA was not inevitable and could have been avoided had the British Conservative government made concessions that would have enabled a so-called ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ Brexit resolution. Between the June 2016 referendum and the final resolution of the UK-EU Brexit settlement in December 2019, broad consensus and expectations within the industry seemed to indicate that it would remain a member state of the EU. ‘EASA, with minimal disruption.

At the British Business & General Aviation Association’s annual conference in March, group chief executive Marc Bailey said the loss of mutual acceptance of UK-EU licenses from next January would worsen without no doubt the existing skills shortages, mainly for UK airlines. .

“No doubt, there was an impact because the positions have hardened [between the UK and the EU]Bailey commented. “We expected to see bilateral agreements [on immigration and recognition of qualifications] materialize in a few years; it is not at the level of the UK Civil Aviation Authority and EASA, but at the political level that there is no will for them to take place, so the progress on the agreements have been weaker than many of us would have hoped.

Simon Phippard, solicitor in the London office of Bird & Bird, said AIN that the loss of EASA membership had proved a source of consternation to the UK aviation industry, even though the transition period allowed for mutual recognition of certificates, approvals and licenses until the end of 2022. He said that would effectively mean a dual license or dual compliance regime in the future.

“The classic example would be a European maintenance supplier who held an EASA Part 145 certificate, and among their customers were UK-registered airlines,” he said. “It would no longer be able to continue to provide these functions unless it also acquires a UK Part 145 approval certificate.

“In the same way, [that applies to] holder of an EASA pilot license. If you hold a commercial pilot license (CPL) or an air transport pilot license (ATPL) issued by France, Germany or Lithuania, for example, under the EASA system, you You can exercise these privileges on a UK-registered aircraft, just as you could on an Italian or Spanish aircraft. This will come to an end [at the end of the year].”

In Phippard’s view, the UK’s changes have less to do with mutual recognition between the EU and the UK than with the UK setting the consequences of leaving EASA . “It’s the UK making sure they have all the processes in place to enable the right people to get the right licenses from the UK,” he said. “As we enter the summer, we may be crossing our fingers that we don’t have a two-month delay during the holiday period, with people suddenly realizing in October that they have to file applications for Licence.”

Brexit has not necessarily led to recent acute delays at UK airports, he added. “I don’t think the current reports of airlift delivery issues are the result of post-Brexit licensing changes,” Phippard noted. “That, I think, is a post-Covid skill retention or recovery issue rather than a license issue to publish.”

In the 18 months since the end of the UK’s membership of EASA, the UK has continued to recognize EASA licenses, but the reverse has not been the case. , Phippard explained. At present, the substantive regulations in the UK almost mirror those of EASA, but with changes to reflect the fact that a National Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) now regulates UK civil aviation , not EASA. Debate continues over whether the UK CAA is adequately staffed and funded to carry out its mission.

Despite the changes, Phippard said he saw no obvious pitfalls the UK aviation industry would face beyond 2022. “I think in regulatory terms we generally know what we’re looking at,” he said. -he declares. “The licensing requirements are clear. The issue of traffic rights between the EU and the UK is settled. We had planned for it to be full third and fourth freedom rights: no limits on fares, frequency, times, all that sort of thing. As you know, there are old-fashioned service agreements where everything is very prescriptive.

“This is not the case between the UK and the EU. If an airline has its operating license and its AOC, it can operate flights across the English Channel, and there is no time limit on that. One possibility could have been that emergency measures had been put in place: “We will agree traffic rights for five years and give time to find a solution. This does not happen. The TCA is open.

ADS, a trade organization representing companies in the UK aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, said Brexit had not been its only concern lately, Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine posing the biggest problems over the past two years. years.

“Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, it is crucial that the UK and the EU work together to resolve outstanding technical issues, such as those relating to tariffs on raw materials passing through Ireland. from the rest of the UK, European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recognition of UK maintenance approvals and UK association with Horizon Europe,” a spokesperson said. AIN.

For now, the UK faces exclusion from the EU’s Horizon Europe funding program for research and innovation and its €95.5 billion ($102.5 billion) budget. dollars). In response to the UK government’s stated intention to unilaterally renege on its deal on Northern Ireland’s border with EU member Ireland, the European Commission said UK businesses could not participate.

UK aircraft and equipment manufacturers must now apply for type certification from the CAA, with a view to obtaining subsequent approval from the European aviation safety regulator EASA, which adds bureaucracy and costs. However, the government’s stated doctrine of being a “rule maker, not a rule taker” may be softening given the CAA’s announcement in May that it will align its standards for new eVTOL aircraft with EASA Special Conditions VTOL rules.