Brexit: Reciprocity is goal of negotiations, BBGA


‘Standard’ bilateral agreements on permits to travel within the EU, which are currently hampering UK charter operators, are looking unlikely, according to the British Business General Aviation Association’s (BBGA) CEO Marc Bailey.

Since the first week of January, Bailey and a number of BBGA board members, including Brian Humphries, have held weekly discussions with the Department for Transport (DfT) and UK CAA negotiation teams on the permit situation.

Bilateral discussions have been held with each member state to try to secure an even playing field for UK business aviation operators operating G-registered aircraft. Discussions were prohibited before the UK exited the transition period.

“The goal is to encourage reciprocity in whatever shape the final agreement takes with each individual country,” Bailey told Corporate Jet Investor. “However, it has become clear that each EU state is different and a ‘standard’ bilateral agreement isn’t looking likely. The negotiating team are calling on their experience to deliver the best result on behalf of the UK and our industry,” he adds.

The fact that BBGA has been able to speak with both regulators and share members’ experience each week is testament to the close relationship BBGA enjoys for its 180-plus membership.

‘Securing an equal playing field’

“We are all pushing for securing an equal playing field. Some EU states are making heavy work of it even on the straight forward third and fourth freedoms. A 48-hour application period; heightened security and an initial application fee of 4,000 euros is simply not conducive to swift, non-scheduled commercial operations, primarily used by business executives, doing business overseas,” Bailey said.

BBGA deputy chairman and CEO of SaxonAir, Alex Durand told CJI: “The speed and focus from CAA and DfT has been very good, it shows that non-scheduled aviation is valued and it gives us hope for a resolution. It is also significant as we move away from EASA and fall under the CAA to be working so closely with key negotiators.”

The BBGA said some member states – including Italy and Greece – are being supportive of the new process. In some instances, it is seeing permits being granted more rapidly than country guidance suggests and for some higher freedom flights beyond the fourth.

As of January 26th at least six member states are accepting permit-free third and fourth Freedom flights. This is progress, but it is slower than the BBGA would like and G-reg aircraft operators are seeing many inconsistencies.

“Some will deliver a better service in the pre-advanced 48 hours. France, for example, has been supporting applications outside of business hours, which is positive to hear. Unfortunately, some member states are being slow and too process focused, making approvals somewhat protracted.”

‘Urge operators to share experiences’

However, the DfT has shared some examples where they have helped facilitate seventh Freedom flights within the EU.

“We want to encourage our members not to be put off by the initial requirements that hinder our pathways,” added Bailey.

The DfT is gathering in best practice agreements and we are determining our top 10 priorities to simplify and standardise the process with member states in finalising each bilateral agreement.

“We urge operators to keep sharing examples of good and bad permit applications plus anything that prevents you contracting / wet-leasing for work you have previously secured,” said Bailey .

According to WINGX, an estimated 20% of flying conducted on intra EU routes could be lost for UK G-registered operators unable to fly those routes. However, they should as a consequence, see more British Isles and domestic flying, because EU operators cannot operate fifth freedom routes here – unless their aircraft are registered here and they have a British AOC.

Domestic flying may boom this summer

Domestic flying may well boom this summer with more people feeling safer to holiday in the British Isles, BBGA suggests. Durand can see his company making a collaboration with a few EU operators as a likely solution.

Air Charter Scotland started its Brexit planning a year ago, putting a few business jets on the Maltese register. It has just certified two aircraft and is considering adding a third, according to commercial director Derek Thomson. Air Charter Scotland Europe was formalised in January.

“We are all experiencing an exceptionally challenging and uncertain time in aviation. However, it is also a time of unchartered opportunity to prove our value as a business enabler,” said Thomson.

“Business aviation is now on the radar of new customers who turned to us because their regular airline route got cut, or they needed urgent repatriation. Medical professionals working around the clock to fight the pandemic booked with us on their itineraries, reassured by our sector’s safe, private, hygiene-safe cabins. When the world needed support – business aviation delivered, including several of our members ’jets equipped as air ambulances.”

‘Understand the landscape’

Durand is sure that when there are rules in place for each EU state the industry can step up and deliver, “we just need to understand the landscape”.

Durand points to the work that Guernsey and the Isle of Man has done over the years creating their own aircraft registries. “There is no reason why we can’t get the UK’s G reg to evolve as a coveted jurisdiction?”

For charter broker, PrivateFly’s CEO Adam Twidell one question which needs to be asked is what about the extra flying? Sustainability is a driving factor behind much of the research and engineering across the industry. Yet complications and refusals with permits are meaning regularly more aircraft are in the air than is necessary.

Twidell told CJI PrivateFly recently had an enquiry about a charter flight to London from Madrid. They already had an aircraft returning to the UK, however due to permit complications the aircraft was unable to make the trip. Instead, PrivateFly used a German operator meaning two aircraft were flying. According to Twidell, this is not uncommon since the turn of the year.

At a glance: 

  • Bilateral agreement is looking unlikely given the various stipulations and differences in each member state

  • WINGX data shows an estimated 20% of flying conducted on intra EU routes could be lost for UK G-registered operators

  • Extra flying due to permit complications means more aircraft are in the air than necessary

  • DfT is collecting examples of best practice examples and urges operators to share experiences.