UK set to eject out of EU aviation regulator

The UK will go it alone in certifying commercial aviation matters. [Photo: Shutterstock]

The United Kingdom will leave the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) at the end of 2020, according to Britain’s transport minister. Shifting responsibility back to its own regulator could cost the UK £400m over the course of a decade though.

At the end of the Brexit transition period, the power to certify aircraft will be transferred to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in a move that Transport Secretary Grant Schapps said would “bring expertise home”.

Schapps told Aviation Week on 6 March that “a lot of the expertise they [EASA] have is UK expertise, in fact. A lot of the key leading lights were Brits.” He added that “the expertise will need to come home”.

“Being a member of EASA is not compatible with the UK having genuine economic and political independence,” the Department for Transport said in a statement.

“We will maintain world-leading safety standards for industry, with the CAA taking over these responsibilities, and will continue to work with colleagues in the EU to establish a new regulatory relationship.”

EASA is an EU agency that certifies commercial aircraft for use in the bloc’s skies and some third-party countries. It also monitors safety efforts and conducts investigations when necessary.

It is currently involved in the Boeing MAX case and the grounded aircraft’s return to service. EASA has indicated that it will conduct its own test flights before certifying the airliner for use in Europe’s airspace.

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The Cologne-based authority only counts EU states among its full members but it has a number of association agreements with other countries like Liechtenstein and Switzerland. 

Shifting power to the CAA means that the UK will have to do all of the work EASA would normally carry out. Trade body ADS told the BBC that it might mean both authorities doubling up on work that currently only needs to be done once.

The group – which represents more than 1,100 UK businesses in the sector – estimated that it could take 10 years and cost £40m per year to replicate EASA’s contribution. The UK currently pays between £1m and £4m in annual fees to the agency.

“We have been clear that continued participation in EASA is the best option to maintain the competitiveness of our £36bn aerospace industry and our access to global export markets,” ADS said.

British Airways owner the IAG group warned that “there is no way” that the CAA can be restructured in time for it to be ready by the end of 2020 and called for an air safety agreement to be concluded between the UK and EU.

It is unclear if such an agreement will be finalised in the remaining time, given the UK negotiating team’s focus on areas more related to trade and commerce. Britain’s EASA membership would be extended if the government asks for more time by 31 July.

Aviation has been heavily hit by the coronavirus outbreak and industry group IATA warned last week the sector could haemorrhage more than $100bn over the course of this year. Rumours in Brussels suggest the trade talks could be prolonged because of the disease’s huge impact.

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