Getting the right result for the UK’s aerospace and air transport sectors during the Brexit negotiations is vital for UK prosperity.
Working within an EU framework has helped the UK aerospace and air transport sectors to develop and prosper with a minimum of cross border restrictions in Europe, operating to common standards, facilitating market access, free from customs and tariff restrictions. It is vital to retain as many of these benefits post-Brexit as possible.
Since the mid 1980’s, the UK has been part of the EU Open Skies Agreement which replaced country by country, route by route bilateral agreements which covered rules on sectors flown, fares, capacity, frequency and carrier designation. Under EU Open Skies, such restrictions were removed under ‘de-regulation’ allowing any EU registered carrier free market access to fly any route with service levels, products and pricing of its choosing between any pair of points within the EU. This led to a significant increase in the number of services offered, reduction in fares, increase in passengers flown and overall expansion of the market. It also facilitated the development of the ‘low cost / no-frills’ airlines such as Ryanair from Eire and easyJet in the UK, now Europe’s largest first and second airlines.
The UK market has benefited from de-regulation more than any other in Europe. Both Swiss and Norwegian based airlines enjoy access to Open Skies but only because their governments have agreed to conform to specific parts of EU legislation. All UK airlines have expressed concern about continued free access to the EU market, with easyJet Europe now to be headquartered in Vienna to allow the airline to continue to operate flights both across Europe and domestically within European countries after the UK has left the EU (regardless of the outcome of talks on a future UK-EU aviation agreement). Ryanair has also stressed the need for clear plans that allow for long term planning cycles which stretch beyond the March 2019 cut off.
Any introduction of tariffs and more rigorous customs checks to include EU sourced or destined freight could prejudice Heathrow’s position as UK leading port by value. Access to and conformity with EASA internationally agreed standards and regulations is also key to ensuring continued effectiveness and value of the UK air transport sector. BREXIT negotiations must secure continued access to EU Open Skies for UK airlines.
Uncertainty over how airports and airspace are to be regulated could hinder the UK’s much needed airport expansion. Whether Britain remains a part of the European Common Aviation Area is crucial to maintaining the dynamism of the UK aviation sector. The EU organises the multilateral agreements for the use of international airspace by UK airlines in and across Europe as well as elsewhere. Unless agreement for continuity under the EU umbrella of agreements is reached before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, the UK will have to restart negotiations of bi-laterals with all 36 countries that are members of the ECAA and reach separate agreements with each one as well as other nations with which the EU has reached agreement. Unless clear and unequivocal continuity of all existing arrangements is in place before the UK exits the EU, it could have a significant and potentially seriously damaging effect on the UK air transport industry.
The Aerospace sector is crucial to the future development of a high skill, high added value UK economy and employment. Through Airbus, UK Boeing, Rolls Royce and other high technology aerospace firms, the UK enjoys a leading position on many civil and defence international aerospace programmes. Many programmes involve collaboration with EU partners, and BREXIT negotiations must aim to secure continued access to such programmes whilst recognising the importance of other established international aerospace programmes and opportunities. The potential for limitations on the free movement of and access to skilled staff, particularly engineers and designers, is of concern to the Aerospace sector. The imposition of any form of tariff and/non-tariff barriers on the components produced in the UK and shipped to the EU27 for manufacture or completion must be resisted. Maintenance of the status quo for UK Aerospace should be a key part of the BREXIT negotiating position.
Overall, future success and sustainability depend on getting the negotiations right.