Brexit For Aviation: Massive Uncertainty

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In between your news reporting of the U.S. government shutdown and what adverts might be played during the Super Bowl, you might have heard talk mentioned of the U.K.’s Brexit negotiations. I hesitate to use the word negotiations, as that would indicate all the parties involved are working together to bring together divergent positions into a unanimous agreement … Sadly, the relentless coverage of U.K. parliamentary debate indicates otherwise.

We've kind of been avoiding the subject here at FLYER magazine when it comes to how it might affect U.K. general aviation, not because we're not interested (we are) and not because it won’t affect all of is (it will), but simply because right now, no fact will stay still enough for us to be able to nail it down.

With the exception of some parts of GA, the vast majority of the aviation world wants to remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) post-Brexit. That brings a few problems and puts a toe or perhaps a whole foot on the wrong side of one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s red lines. It also presents a challenge to some in Europe who consider it a form of cherry picking. In other words, the U.K. is all in or all out.

For a good few months after the referendum vote, there was a strong feeling that we’d likely keep all of EASA’s rules here in the U.K. Earlier in 2018, May indicated that it was the U.K.’s intention to remain in EASA. Fast forward to later in the year and May seemed to have modified that policy somewhat, when she told a Parliamentary subcommittee that our membership in EASA will be based on “capabilities” and will be subject to the next stage of negotiation after we have left the EU on March 29, 2019.

OK, so suppose we won’t remain a part of EASA. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority says there will be no change for licenses but the E.U. issued a statement saying post-Brexit, if there is no deal then the E.U. will not recognize U.K.-issued EASA certificates. That’s sort of like a foreign student training in the U.S. and finding out his FAA-issued certificate won’t be recognized by his home country.

So now there's the potential, or even likelihood, of a period of huge uncertainty. We’re temporarily uncertain of our position and probably without a GPS or the ability to call up 121.5 for a training fix.

Even ahead of a Brexit deal that does who knows what, this had wide implications for aviation. Some British GA equipment manufacturers have already invested large amounts of time, money and resources in establishing European offices they hope in reality they won’t need. The thought of waking up on March 30 with a range of home-grown products that no longer have European approvals is just too risky. On the other hand, setting up the offices requires time and money. There may be implications for U.S. manufacturers who may face additional bureaucracy for what had been routine paperwork.

What’s especially frustrating for aviation operators of all sizes is the uncertainty. Whatever I write today could be wrong tomorrow, such is the disarray in British politics right now. Following May’s humiliating defeat in the House of Commons on Jan. 15, the debate and vote on Brexit “Plan B” takes place on Jan. 29.

If that fails, I heard mention of the idea that we should just lock the politicians in the Houses of Parliament for a Vatican-style Conclave until they can signal their agreement on the whole mess with some white smoke …

While that might have once seemed like a completely mad suggestion, at this stage, with March fast approaching, it's beginning to look like it might be worth a try. From across the Atlantic, a government shutdown doesn’t look quite so bad.

Ed Hicks is editor of the U.K.-based FLYER Magazine.