UK is leaving EASA

The British government have announced that the UK will no longer be an ‘EASA Member State’ after 31 December 2020. This is a U-turn from the government’s position in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote and goes against the wishes of the UK aviation and aerospace industry (see BBC News).

So what are the implications of the UK becoming a ‘third country’?

Airlines

UK Airlines will lose the right to fly between EU cities and non-UK airlines will lose the right to fly UK domestic services. EU airlines may also lose rights to fly between the UK and non-EU countries if a bilateral air service agreement (BASA) specifies that a UK airline must be UK owned.

Several airlines have anticipated this and set up affiliates or subsidiaries with Air Operator’s Certificates (AOCs) in other countries; for example Easyjet has an Austrian AOC, Wizz Air and RyanAir (both non-UK companies) have set up subsidiaries with UK-issued AOCs.

The situation with IAG is less clear. IAG is a majority EU-owned company that owns several airlines including British Airways (BA). BA has its principal place of business in the UK and has a UK issued AOC. Under a 2018 agreement BA will to continue to fly existing routes to the USA but ‘foreign’ ownership may present difficulties for routes to other non-EU destinations.

The biggest impact will be on the airlines you’ve never heard of. There are several UK airlines that offer passenger and cargo aircraft for charter to other airlines. Instead of operating all over Europe these companies will only be able to offer services inside the UK, so they could lose 80% of their market.

Pilots and Engineers

The  ‘mutual recognition’ that allowed airlines to operate anywhere in the EU also allowed pilots or engineers holding a licence issued by one EASA State to work on aircraft registered in any EASA State. Holders of UK issued licences will lose this privilege. Many pilots (including me) have transferred our ‘State of Licence Issue’ to other EU countries.

It seems likely that it won’t be possible to do this or to operate UK registered aircraft with an EASA licence after 31 December 2020.

Pilot training

Since 2013 training providers in the UK have been able to train pilots holding a licence issued by any EASA Member State. This will no longer be the case after 31 December 2020. Many approved training organisations (ATOs) have anticipated this and taken measures to mitigate the effects.

Some ATOs have set up ‘brass plaque’ companies in other EU States and claimed these as their principal place of business in order to get approval from those States while continuing to provide training in the UK. Other ATOs have applied directly to EASA for approval as third-country entities.

Aircraft Manufacture and Maintenance

The biggest issue for the UK CAA once the UK leaves EASA will be  to conduct oversight of aircraft manufacture and maintenance (‘airworthiness’). EASA took over competence for most airworthiness activities in 2003 so the UK CAA no longer has the resources (personnel and expertise) to certify new aircraft.

The Government Minister responsible has said that the UK will now develop its own certification specifications (see Aviation Week). This is clearly nonsense. The UK CAA no longer has the expertise to do this and manufacturers are not going to design aircraft to a unique set of regulations just so that they can sell into the UK market.

A realistic alternative will be to ‘validate’ type certificates issued by other Authorities such as EASA or the US FAA. ‘Validation’ is an administrative action, not a technical one, so it would be easy for the CAA to do this but it leaves the UK a ‘rule taker’.

Regulations

EU regulations for aviation have been directly applicable in the UK but they won’t apply after 31 December 2020. The UK cannot go back to previous national regulations as they are out-of-date and not aligned with international standards. Instead, EU aviation regulations will be implemented into UK law under the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ with suitable amendments to remove references to  EASA and the European Commission.

Whenever the EU changes or updates regulations in the future the government will need to decide whether to adopt these changes into UK law. In the spirit of national sovereignty the government may wish to diverge from the EU and develop its own regulations.

The Authority

The UK CAA will have new responsibilities for airworthiness (see above). The CAA has also managed to create work for itself by requiring EU airlines to apply for technical authorisation to fly to the UK. Despite this my expectation is that the CAA will need to down-size. The CAA is funded by charges levied on the industry. Being outside EASA makes the UK less attractive for airlines, manufacturers, maintenance providers and training organisations. Even if these organisations are physically located in the UK approval and oversight may be conducted by other authorities meaning a loss of work and revenue for the CAA.

Andrew McKechnie

March 2020

Andrew McKechnie is a pilot and expert in Aviation Regulations and was a consultant to EASA (until Brexit).