With Brexit getting nearer, there is still no trade deal in place, and as the transition period comes to a close there are concerns as to whether any future relationship agreement will include aviation. Talks continue, with hopes of including the sector, but many in the industry worry that time for making any necessary preparations is running out. A sector already dramatically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, how will aviation fare post Brexit?
1. Will passenger planes be allowed to fly between the EU and the U.K.?
There are continuing negotiations to ensure flights between the EU and UK don’t suddenly come to a stop on January 1st. As part of the EU, the U.K. is a member of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), the world’s largest liberalised aviation market which includes all nine ‘freedoms of the air’, allowing carriers from one country full rights to operate, pick up and drop off passengers and cargo and fly wherever they want. With no new arrangement the U.K. would no longer be a member of this.
The U.K. would then face much stricter limits and without a deal, U.K. airlines operating licenses will no longer be valid in the EU. They will have to move their main place of business to the EU in order to continue operating there. Additionally, all certificates, licenses and registrations covering pilots, parts and airplanes become invalid and would need to be validated again in an EU country. Grant Shapps, Britain’s Transport Minister states he expects the EU to bring forward contingency measures, to be reciprocated by London, but says the U.K. is holding out for some ‘sensible additional flexibilities’.
However, many airlines claim to not be too worried thanks to the no-deal contingency measures drawn up in March 2019 between London and Brussels, which ensure connectivity in the event of no agreement. The U.K. government has gone some way to making alternative arrangements with 17 countries where air services are determined by EU-negotiated multilateral ones and so hopefully there will not be much disruption to U.K. flights to non-EU destinations.
2. Wait times for travellers
An obvious consequence of Brexit is that British people can no longer join the EU members customs queue at airports, and will have to join longer, slower lines. Although in October Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly wanted continued access for British citizens to the automatic e-gates which EU nationals can use at airports and Eurostar terminals, this seems unlikely. According to the Schengen Borders Code, non-EU nationals’ passports must be manually checked by a border guard, so entering through e-gates would not be allowed.
Additionally, from early 2022 the EU will change its rules as it introduces an automated IT system for registering non-EU nationals, in the hopes of reducing these queues as airports move away from manual checks and stamping passports. The EU believes this will also help detect people over-staying their visa. Regarding entering the U.K., apparently ‘provision will be made’ to ensure that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens with biometric passports can still use e-passport gates (also possible for citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the U.S., Singapore and South Korea), although the government does state that this will be kept ‘under review’.
3. Impacts on cargo, charter and business airlines
Regarding cargo, as there is no agreement yet U.K. operators will have to apply for permits for each flight between EU countries, for any EU country they land in whether picking up or dropping off, which can take days. Dave Edwards from the Air Charter Association explained that there is ‘no clarity’ on how and if U.K. charter, cargo and business airlines will be able to operate flights between EU member countries. He stated, ‘That is a huge concern for the sector…We remain hopeful of a deal, but at the same time realistic given the time remaining. Ultimately this could be a very disappointing position for U.K. operators’.
4. Impacts on pilot licenses
Many in the U.K. aviation industry are concerned about the effect of Brexit on pilot licenses. They worry flight training and mutual recognition of licenses will not be included in an agreement, and fear their flight training could be seen as less competitive because U.K. pilot training might not be automatically accepted by EU countries. It is likely to lead to an increase in fees for British flight training schools, which will have to decide whether to opt for EU approval by EASA (its’ aviation safety regulator), on top of that of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority.
5. Possibilities for aviation post Brexit
The Insitute for Government think tank has outlined several potential models of what a deal may involve, highlighting a few options.
- The U.K. could rejoin the ECAA as a new member, however this could be difficult as it must have support from all 27 EU countries and Spain has stated it won’t do so due to concern over Gibraltar’s airport.
- The U.K. could accept a Switzerland-style deal, guaranteeing almost full access to the ECAA. However this would mean the continuing influence of the Court of Justice of the European Union, a no go for the U.K., and again Spain would take issue with this.
- The U.K will have to make individual agreements with EU countries which is extremely time-consuming.
- The EU’s draft negotiating mandate states it would agree to a new open skies deal with the U.K., but comes with obligations for Britain to maintain current standards on state aid, labor laws, environment and competition, which London does not like.
- The U.K. could return to old international agreements like the 1944 Chicago Convention, however these weren’t created for the modern aviation era, and would also still cause U.K. licenses and registrations to lose their validity.
It is an extremely complicated issue, and whatever their preferences for a deal, the aviation sector is showing frustration both in the U.K. and the EU. One European operator stated, ‘The big problem is we have no information from the European Commission. They have told us many times they were hoping to land a deal in the next few weeks. The lack of visibility is a huge problem’.