Could the UK manage without EASA?

One issue to be decided during the Brexit negotiations is whether the UK can continue to be an ‘EASA Member State’ after leaving the EU. The view of the European Commission is that it cannot. The view of the British Government is that it should and “probably will“. If the UK is to remain an EASA Member State then there will clearly be a price to pay. I have no idea what the price would be, but if that price is too high then what would be the implications of the UK becoming a ‘third country’?

Airlines

UK Airlines would lose the right to fly between EU (non-UK cities) and non-UK airlines would lose the right to fly UK domestic services. Several operators are already making contingency plans by applying for Air Operator’s Certificates (AOC) in other European countries. Easyjet now has an Austrian AOC, Wizz Air and RyanAir are reported to be applying for UK AOCs.

Some non-airline air operators (business jets etc.) would probably decide that it made sense to be based outside the UK.

Pilots

The same ‘mutual recognition’ that allows the airlines to operate anywhere in the EU also allows pilots holding a licence issued by one EASA State to fly aircraft registered in any EASA State. If EASA membership ends then so would this ‘mutual recognition’. Even if the UK maintains regulations that mirror EU rules the EASA States would be unlikely to recognise UK licences without EASA performing standardisation inspections on the UK CAA. I guess a lot of UK pilots would be applying to transfer their licences to one of the remaining EASA States.

There would be an impact on the UK pilot-training industry, which is sizeable. The EU took over competence for pilot-licensing regulations in 2013. Since then training providers in the UK have been able to train pilots holding a licence issued by any EASA Member State. If being approved by the UK CAA means only being able to train UK licence-holders then this would be a much smaller and less attractive market. The large training providers could be expected to opt to accept the oversight of another Authority (as some have done already).

Aircraft Manufacture and Maintenance

The biggest issue for the UK CAA would be to conduct oversight of aircraft manufacture and maintenance (‘airworthiness’). EASA took over competence for most airworthiness activities 15 years ago so the UK CAA no longer has the resources (personnel and expertise) to certify new aircraft. Some say that this would be a problem and that the CAA would have to expand massively to cope. The reality is that very few aviation authorities worldwide have the competence to do this work. Instead of ‘certifying’ aircraft themselves the Authorities ‘validate’ type certificates issued by other Authorities, typically either EASA or the US FAA. The UK CAA could adopt the same approach. ‘Validation’ is an administrative action, not a technical one, so it would be easy for the CAA to do this.

Regulations

EU regulations for aviation are directly applicable in the UK. The UK could not go back to the national regulations that were previously in place, they are all out-of-date and would no longer comply with international standards. It is also unthinkable that the UK could draft and implement new regulations before the end of a transition period. It seems likely that EU aviation regulations would be implemented into UK law under the ‘Great Repeal Bill’. The problem is that these regulations won’t make any sense if the UK is no longer an EASA Member State. There are references to ‘The Agency’ (EASA), ‘Member States’, ‘The Commission’ and ‘Third Countries’ all through the regulations. The ‘Basic Regulation’ states that an objective of the regulation is ‘to facilitate the free movement of goods, persons and services‘. This isn’t compatible with being outside the single market. Re-writing all the regulations without these references would be possible, but it isn’t just a matter of using ‘find and replace’ in Word.

Whenever the EU changes or updates regulations in the future the UK would need to decide whether to adopt these changes into UK law. At the moment, the UK has a say in the development of these regulations. UK industry and regulator are well represented in EASA rulemaking groups so the needs of the UK are heard (even if it doesn’t always seem like it). Without EASA membership UK experts would not be invited to participate and regulations would be developed to protect the interests of the remaining Member States. If the UK choose not to accept new regulations then there would be no prospect of any future ‘mutual recognition’.

So?

For the UK to become a ‘Third Country’ would have a significant impact on the Aviation Industry. Perhaps jobs would not be lost, but they would certainly be some that would be relocated. The CAA would need to make changes but it could be that the overall workload for the Authority would be reduced rather than increased as airlines, pilots, training and airworthiness organisations put themselves under the oversight of other Authorities. There would be a lot of work writing and updating regulations.

Andrew McKechnie

January 2018

Andrew McKechnie is a consultant in Aviation Regulations and an EASA ‘independent external expert’ (until Brexit). Andrew has developed regulations for non-EU States based on EU aviation regulations.

UPDATE:

In September 2018 the UK government published guidance about the action it will take in the event of a ‘no deal Brexit’. We explain what this means for you.

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