Grounded planes: What will happen to aviation after Brexit?

Grounded planes: What will happen to aviation after Brexit?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The chief executive of Airbus branded the Government’s handling of Brexit as a “disgrace” on Thursday, and warned that the company would move outside of the UK if its ability to compete on the global stage was damaged by a no-deal Brexit.

Tom Enders, chief executive of the aerospace giant, said a no-deal Brexit could force Airbus, which employs more than 14,000 people in the UK, to make “potentially very harmful decisions” about its UK branch.

In a video message, Mr Enders said: "In a global economy the UK no longer has the capability to go it alone. Major aerospace projects are multinational affairs.

"It is a disgrace that, more than two years after the result of the 2016 referendum, businesses are still unable to plan properly for the future.

"We, along with many of our peers, have repeatedly called for clarity, but we still have no idea what is really going on here."

So, will Brexit mean less aviation jobs? And how will UK holidaymakers' flights be affected by a no-deal Brexit?

Dr Barry Humphreys, the former chairman of the British Air Transport Association gives us the answers to some of the most common questions.


How can UK airlines fly in Europe after Brexit?

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said he doesn't anticipate flights to be grounded for more than 'a couple of days or weeks' if they experience issues after Brexit. Image: Getty

The EU currently operates a single aviation agreement called the Internal Aviation Market. All EU countries are subject to its rules and regulations, and can fly anywhere in Europe.

“Manufacturers can always fall back on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules to continue to trade. Aviation is not covered by those rules," Dr Humphreys explains. "Aviation has always had its own unique global regulatory regime. Before the creation of the Internal Aviation Market, every country in Europe had a bilateral air services agreement with every other country in Europe and indeed with every country around the world.

“Most lawyers have argued that [the old agreements] are still dormant in place, and would come back into effect if the UK withdraws from the Internal Aviation Market. There are two problems with that. The first is that those old agreements are very old-fashioned, and they only cover traffic from one country to another country and back.

“For example, an air service agreement between the UK and France would cover traffic by UK and French airlines only. In the Internal Aviation Market, airlines have been able to operate anywhere so Easyjet, a British airline, has been operating from France to Italy, from Spain to Germany. Those types of operations would not be covered by the old bilaterals.”


What does this mean for holidaymakers?

“The jury is out, that is the simple answer," says Dr Humphreys. "Especially in terms of travelling through airports - no one knows how that is going to be handled at the moment. 

"In terms of UK holidaymakers, I think it is highly unlikely that their air services to the continent will be interrupted. I don’t think it would be in anyone’s interest to see that. In the worst case scenario, there may be implications for foreign airlines operating in the UK or for UK airlines operating in the continent.”


Will the cost of flights go up?

Queues at border control at Gatwick Airport. Image: Getty

“As a generalisation, any additional restrictions placed on airlines would probably lead to higher costs and therefore, higher fares," says Dr Humphreys. “Additional restrictions are unlikely to be good news for the consumer.

Maintaining services is in the interest of the tourism industry, he adds.

"Fares may nudge up but they are not going to double. The UK is, by some way, the largest aviation market in Europe and it generates a lot of traffic for continental airlines and a lot of tourists as well.

“There will be pressure to maintain services and make sure they are not interrupted. It is in everyone’s interest that they are not.”


How will flight safety regulations change?

Airbus have described the Government's handling of Brexit negotiations as a 'disgrace'. 

“This quite complex. Going back a few years, safety was done on a national basis so in the UK we have the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which is responsible for safety regulations. What happened a few years ago was it was decided to form a Europe-wide authority to set standards, and those standards would then be implemented by the old national aviation regulatory bodies [like the CAA].

“Something called the EASA [European Aviation Safety Agency] was set up and based in Cologne in Germany.

"But it is an EU agency so when the UK leaves the EU it can legally no longer be a member of EASA. That creates enormous difficulty because the only alternative is to go back to the old system of the CAA doing it themselves.

“The CAA has said it would take years to reacquire the expertise and the manpower to undertake it all and it simply could not be done by the time we are leaving the EU. That means in effect that if the UK is not a member of EASA and not subject to the EASA rules all services in the UK by UK airlines would be grounded. You don’t have any air services unless you sort out the safety regulations.”

Following a story on Sky News that claimed the CAA was concered pilots' licenses would not be valid after Brexit, the authority released a statement refuting the claims. "It is misleading for Sky News to say that pilots would need to renew their pilot's licence in a 'no-deal' Brexit scenario. Both commercial and private UK pilot licences would remain valid for use on UK-registered aircraft... both now and after 29 March 2019," it said.

It also denied being concerned about being able to implement safety checks: "“The CAA also strongly refutes any suggestion that we are concerned about our ability to provide safety oversight to the UK aviation industry should no-deal be reached between the UK and the EU.  The safety of passengers, crew and those on the ground remains our absolute priority and nothing has changed in this respect."


Do we need to be a part of the EU to be a member of the EASA?

The aviation industry has expressed that retaining membership of the EASA is vital to keep planes in the air. 

Theresa May's Chequers proposal states that the UK would seek to become a third party member of the EASA and continue the UK's alignment with its regulations, in a similar manner to Switzerland. 

“It does need political approval so if we left on very very bad terms, then maybe the European Commission and member states would say 'no, we don’t want you to be a member'," says Dr Humphreys. "It seems very unlikely because they would come under enormous pressure from their own aviation industry to do that.

“The UK is the largest financial country to the EASA so I am sure they would not welcome having to find more money.”