Airlines, airports, and aerospace manufacturers remain at a loss over how, or if, traffic and parts will move between the UK and the EU 27 after March 2019 following Monday’s decision by British prime minister Theresa May to postpone the planned parliamentary vote on the deal she negotiated to exit the bloc. Lawmakers had expected the vote on the long-negotiated withdrawal agreement to take place on December 11. An approval would have avoided a “hard” Brexit and cleared the way for a so-called orderly withdrawal and a transition period—during which the status quo will prevail—through December 2020.
With less than 100 days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU “continued uncertainty is extremely unhelpful,” reacted UK aerospace trade body ADS chief executive Paul Everitt. Last week, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the EU Aeronautics Conference in Brussels, Airbus CEO Tom Enders said he still hoped “common sense would prevail” and the UK parliament would support the Brexit deal between the UK government and EU Commission. The heads of the EU member states approved the deal last month. May now hopes to renegotiate with Brussels some elements of the deal, mainly the tricky issue of the Irish border.
“If we end up with a hard Brexit, it will cause some difficulties for some time,” David Kendrick, head of airline licensing and consumer issues at the UK CAA, told a seminar on the likely effect of Brexit on aviation organized by the European Aviation Club in Brussels last week. However, he remained optimistic about the longer-term effects. “[The industry is] imaginative and always finds a solution to a problem,” said. “I can see in a number of years a scenario of a full-circle of the parties involved.” But, he conceded, “we are not yet there.”
As part of its contingency plan for a non-negotiated exit, the UK CAA will recognize EASA certifications and licenses for a period of time “even if it is not reciprocated by EASA,” Kendrick stressed. For instance, he said, regulations will continue to allow pilots holding an EASA license to fly for UK airlines. “We are not here to punish individuals,” he said. In a notice to stakeholders dated April 13, the European Commission and EASA stated that certificates and licenses issued by the UK CAA will lapse on March 30, 2019, unless a transitional agreement succeeds.
Kendrick also insisted on setting straight several perceptions about the UK’s post-Brexit aviation regulatory framework. It will remain a member of Eurocontrol and still aims to remain a member of EASA. “We have helped built the European common aviation market, we put a lot of effort in it,” he explained. “We have no desire to re-write this and go in a different direction. We want as much of a status quo as possible.” The UK does not intend to reduce passenger rights or move away from environmental protection, he added. “Which government is going to stand up and tell its citizens it managed to reduce their consumer rights?” he asked. “It’s not going to happen.” EU air passenger rights rules apply to EU airlines to and from EU airports, while third country operators only need apply them for flights departing from, and not to, EU airports.
Regarding ownership and control of UK airlines, Kendrick said the UK might be taking a liberal attitude. “The UK has long thought that ownership and control is a barrier to entry and stopped moving freely across nations,” he said. “There is no benefit in that; it just hurts an industry,” adding that the UK CAA has granted AOCs and route licenses to UK airlines not majority owned or controlled by UK shareholders.
How traffic rights between the UK and the EU will be regulated post-Brexit is a matter of political discussion, according to Kendrick. The Commission has said it intends to safeguard third and fourth freedom flights in a first stage. “This bare-bones agreement will give some level of certainty,” he said. “In terms of rights beyond, it all will depend on what the EU 27 agreement will provide in due course. From a UK perspective, we want as much connectivity as possible. The UK wants to be liberal, Kendrick stressed, but it would want reciprocity from the EU. “We have an attractive market to serve,” he insisted.
While the substance of a future air services agreement with the EU remains uncertain, the UK government has secured post-Brexit ASAs with 10 countries: the U.S., Canada, Albania, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Montenegro, Morocco, and Switzerland.