The UK’s departure from the European Union is fast approaching. What must be done to ensure a smooth transition for the aviation industry, whatever the nature of Brexit? IATA highlights three key areas for action
In October, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) put out a call for urgent action by both the UK and the EU to put in place contingency planning for the continuation of air services in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
The association also said both parties must “move much faster” to provide certainty regarding the uninterrupted continuation of air connectivity, the framework for regulating safety and security, and the policies and processes needed for efficient border management – areas identified by an IATA-commissioned study as requiring the most urgent action.
IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said: “These are the most critical areas because there are no fallback agreements such as the WTO [World Trade Organization] framework available in a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario.
“Without any contingency planning being made transparent to the industry, the risks of not addressing these issues could mean chaos for travellers and interrupted supply chains. With less than six months to go, we have little more certainty than we did in June 2016,” he criticised.
In the dark
With regard to connectivity, IATA noted a high degree of uncertainty and a risk to air services even if a Brexit transition phase is agreed for the period following March 2019. On top of that, it said airlines remain “in the dark” when it comes to contingency planning for a hard Brexit scenario as they are not being consulted or included in the discussions.
“The EU and UK have a responsibility to millions of their citizens who depend on reliable air transportation,” de Juniac said, saying the goal should be a comprehensive air services agreement that maintains existing levels of connectivity.
However, with the possibility of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit still on the table even at this late stage in the negotiations, he said it is now essential that the EU and UK civil aviation authorities make contingency arrangements to maintain a minimum level of connectivity – which is vital for people and for business.
“This has to be one of the most important Brexit considerations. A backstop contingency plan to keep planes flying after March must be published, and quickly,” de Juniac urged.
At the same time, the safety and security of passengers and shipments cannot be compromised. IATA’s stance is that all parties should work towards a deal where the status quo is maintained.
To that end, it said the UK should remain in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) at least as a third country member.
EASA and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be allowed to initiate detailed technical discussions on the future relationship between the two bodies – and mutual recognition of safety elements such as professional licences or standards for materials and parts should come into effect immediately after March.
According to de Juniac: “It is ridiculous that formal discussions on the future relationship between EASA and the UK CAA have been forbidden. This is aviation safety we are talking about – the number one priority for everyone connected with air transport and the top responsibility for governments.
“We understand the complexity of the political issues at stake. But safety and security should be non-negotiable.
“Reciprocity and harmonisation are the order of the day,” he summed up.
As for border control, a no-deal Brexit would increase the likelihood of EU travellers having to wait in what IATA describes as “already over-long queues” at UK passport control. One solution, it suggests, might be the creation of a dedicated lane for EU passengers to speed up the process.
Either way, the association says investment in infrastructure, recruitment and training will be essential.
The planned Customs arrangements for airfreight, meanwhile, remain unclear and it is likely that shipments will be delayed or disrupted while new procedures are implemented.
“Interference with the movement of people and goods will have a major and immediate knock-on impact to economic activity in both the UK and the EU,” said de Juniac. “Solutions to minimise disruption are of paramount importance. We must have clarity on future border and Customs arrangements now, if we are to plan for an orderly post-Brexit situation,” he stressed.
Summing up IATA’s report, de Juniac said: “It may seem a short list, but each entails a huge amount of work. A transition period of two years would be a challenging time frame to sort it out. But if the UK leaves the EU with a ‘hard Brexit’ in March 2019 then it is hard to see how all this work can be achieved. The inevitable consequence will be chaos.
“These warnings are not influenced by any political view. It is not for us to comment on the merits of a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit for the UK and EU. Our interest is in ensuring safe, efficient and reliable air connectivity.
“The report is a straightforward, factual account of what needs to be done to achieve that,” he concluded. |