EU could dash hopes for UK to remain in aviation safety agency

An Airbus A320 aircraft of German carrier Lufthansa takes off at Duesseldorf International Airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, 18 January 2018. [EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH]

Britain could be excluded from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) after it quits the EU, raising the prospect of increased certification costs for airlines and manufacturers and dashing London’s hopes of keeping its membership.

EASA ensures airlines respect safety rules and certifies aerospace products across the bloc, helping to bring down the costs of development and production within the industry. In addition, the EU has a bilateral agreement with the United States under which they accept each other’s certifications.

The EU is preparing its negotiating position for its future relationship with Britain and appears to be taking a hard line on aviation.

“UK membership of EASA is not possible,” the European Commission said in slides presented to member states last week which will inform its negotiating position for a transitional agreement and the future relationship with Britain.

The Commission sketched out a vision of the UK having an aviation agreement with the EU along the lines of those the bloc has with the United States and Canada.

Membership of EASA is contingent upon accepting the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, something Britain has ruled out.

UK will be bound by ECJ during transition, admits Davis

Brexit Secretary David Davis has conceded that the UK will remain subject to decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) during its post-Brexit transition period, in a move that threatens to re-open Conservative divisions on the role of the Luxembourg-based court.

The British government, airlines, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have all called for Britain to remain a part of EASA once it quits the EU in March 2019, to ensure cooperation on safety continues and avoid increased certification costs.

Should the UK leave EASA, its manufacturers would have to pay for FAA certification to sell their products in the United States and maintenance facilities would have to pay to be certified as meeting FAA standards.

“It makes no sense to recreate a national regulator. At best, you replicate the vast majority of European regulation, and you’d have to do it over an extended period of time. At worst, you create unnecessary barriers,” CAA Chief Executive Andrew Haines said in a speech in September.

If Britain is not allowed to remain a part of EASA, the CAA would have to take over its responsibilities in making sure airlines respect safety rules and manufacturers and maintenance companies meet standards, raising questions about whether it has the capacity to do that.

Haines said the CAA was purposely not planning for that scenario “as it would be misleading to suggest that’s a viable option.”

EU signals some flexibility on Brexit transition

The European Union is willing to be flexible on the duration and other terms of a Brexit transition period, EU diplomats said as Britain prepares to detail its hopes for what happens after it leaves the bloc in March 2019.

UK aerospace industry body ADS, which counts Airbus as a member, said last week it would take approximately 5-10 years for the CAA to rebuild its safety regulation capability to take over EASA’s current responsibilities.

In the slides, the Commission says there could be a bilateral aviation safety agreement with the UK where both sides have separate certification systems. If there is “reciprocal trust”, there could be a simplified certification process of products from the other side, but no mutual recognition.

The head of the US FAA was in Brussels in December to call for clarity on the safety regime Britain would operate under post Brexit, saying it would be highly costly for manufacturers if Britain left EASA as the FAA would have to make its own findings, “manufacturer by manufacturer.”

“Seeking new aviation arrangements is a top priority and we aim to have the new arrangements in place before the day of exit,” said a spokesman for Britain’s Department for Transport.

Air safety management in the EU

National air safety authorities in the EU are gradually handing over their powers to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is about to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for managing the bloc’s airspace, amid business fears that additional rules could hamper their competitiveness.

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