Business aviation sector urged to make its voice heard in Brexit negotiations


The UK business aviation sector has been warned to make its voice heard by government or face “going over a cliff edge” when Britain leaves the EU in 2019.

Economist Jeremy Cook told attendees at ACE 17 that the sector was not being “talked widely about” during the current negotiations between the British government and the EU about the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU.

And he urged its trade bodies and associations to join forces and lobby the government as much as they could, to make sure it doesn’t get overlooked.

Cook, chief economist and head of currency strategy at currency exchange company WorldFirst, said: “The aviation market is a market that is not being talked about widely in Brexit negotiations yet could easily be one of the largest sectors that goes over a cliff edge on 29th March 2019.

“A position paper on the aviation industry isn’t expected. We’re going to be talking a lot about regulation [in the context of Brexit] but, at the moment, the industry is not being represented well enough within Westminster to get a position paper. The industry must make its voice heard.”

The UK was nearly 25% through its negotiating time and “sufficient” progress was needed to make sure that a transitional agreement was reached at the end of that period, allowing the UK to stay a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency and influence its policy and positioning for as long as possible.

“EASA is and will remain the crucial body for aspects of safety regulation, including design and production of aircraft, their operation, flight crew licensing, and also oversight in relation to air traffic services,” said Cook.

“Much like membership of the wide single market, membership [of EASA] is possible as an associate, but that’s subject to negotiation and takes time. Time, unfortunately, is not something we have.”

The issue of where aircraft can fly to, and from, once the UK has left the EU would also need to be addressed, he said. EU member airlines can fly anywhere, an advantage extended to other countries under the European Economic Area and European Common Aviation Area agreements, but the UK would have to strike its own agreement with other European countries and the US.

This would also be time consuming and wasn’t guaranteed to be a success.

“Ownership options must also be resolved, depending on national agendas. It is unlikely to liberalise the market and may cause break-ups and restructuring,” he said. “Should the US/UK market tie up, we are unlikely to see the UK access the EU air market.

“Without a transitional deal, the sector will have to hope that material changes are made quickly to prevent a complete lock-up of air travel from the UK.”

Speaking to Corporate Jet Investor after the seminar, Cook said business aviation was a very important part of the UK economy. “We need to bang the drum about this. That means going out and saying, ‘These are the genuine risks.’

“A lot of smaller industries are being talked about a lot more than business aviation is – I can’t think of how few times I’ve heard about the sector. I’ve heard more about mobile phone tariffs! For the industry bodies that represent the needs and desires of industry members, this needs to be a clarion call, a voice to say, ‘Wake up, Westminster! If you don’t get something on this, if it’s not a real point of discussion, then you can’t blame us when things don’t happen.”

Two leading UK business aviation trade associations – the Air Charter Association (BACA) and the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) – say they are already talking to government, and making sure that the business aviation sector is represented as well as it can be.

Richard Mumford, BACA chairman, said: “The sector is, and has been, lobbying government. Business aviation is not the top priority for the government, either in relation to Brexit or generally, but the sector and its representatives work tirelessly to raise the profile of the market by explaining its economic importance and by seeking to dispel unhelpful myths about the reasons why people use business aviation as a means of transport.

“There are many working groups and committees devoting significant amounts of time to Brexit in aviation, and so the reality is likely to be that progress is being made, but that there is little scope to make the progress public while the politicians are still attempting to draw the broader principles of the Brexit deal.”

BACA was working with other associations and with its members to raise Brexit-related issues with industry regulators, and was willing to “support the process in any way that might be seen to be useful”.

And he urged politicians to put their differences to one side and appreciate the impact that engaging in brinkmanship could have on the sector.

“We would call on politicians on both sides to work openly together to work openly together to find a workable compromise and to step back from the temptation of brinkmanship. BACA always tries to take a pragmatic approach to the market. We understand that it is the flying customer that needs to be prioritised and protected, and will always encourage all sides to remember that.”

His views were echoed by BBGA CEO and president Marc Bailey, who said that the Association had acted within a week of the referendum vote being held to “pull together our position and declare it to the aviation minister. We made it very clear from the off that we wished to retain our role in EASA and access to the Single European Skies”.

Since then, the BBGA had worked closely with the government, the Civil Aviation Authority, and other trade associations to have input into the Brexit negotiations.

“We’ve been very clear about the impact [Brexit] could have on us,” said Bailey. “The government is taking on board what we say. To say that aviation isn’t lobbying hard is clearly a ridiculous statement.”

The UK was in a strong position in the negotiations, because the CAA provided 30% of EASA’s resources. “The Europeans don’t want us out of the equation – they want us at the table to talk about how the legislation is shaped.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “We are absolutely clear that aviation is crucial to the UK’s economy and we are committed to getting the right deal for Britain.

“The government is talking to businesses across the economy – including those in the aviation sector – to inform our understanding of their concerns and priorities.

“Our aviation industry is the largest in Europe, and both we and the EU benefit from the connectivity it provides. That’s why we are pursuing access to European aviation markets – including all the benefits that brings to consumers.

“We will be setting out further papers in due course.”