European Union Aviation Safety Agency - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:32 pm on 19 March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 2:32, 19 March 2020

My Lords, I reflect the concerns of our side of the House and I hope that my noble friend Lady Vere is very soon back with us and in good health. I too declare my interest, as president of BALPA, the airline pilots’ association.

We are dealing with one of the many unfortunate consequences of the decision to leave the European Union. We are in limbo at the moment because we can no longer take part in any decision-making of the European Aviation Safety Agency, but its regulations continue to apply to us. If you look at its website, you see that we are no longer a member, and we are no longer represented on its board, but that it is accepting applications for a variety of certificates. However, the instructions state:

“Depending on the outcome of the current negotiations on future partnership between the EU and the UK, your certificate may be sent to you by email at the end of the transition period.”

It then goes on:

“This fee is non-refundable, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations”.

Even now we are costing people and the industry money which could be better spent elsewhere.

I wonder to what extent the whole objection is because the European Aviation Safety Agency, in its own words, is

“a body governed by European public law”?

In other words, it is subject—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, it very rarely if ever happens—to the ECJ and European law. Are we withdrawing because of the obsession with getting away from anything to do with Europe?

Where are we going to end up? The EFTA countries are already members with non-voting members on the board. Switzerland has a special relationship, while a large number of other countries, as can been seen on the website, have some form of liaison or other. When these powers come back to the CAA, will a mechanism be in force for us to consult anyone at all before we take decisions? Will there be any communality or platform where information can be exchanged, and what value will our recommendations have? We have the US system and we have the European one. What will be the outcome, for instance, of the recent investigations at Boeing? Will anyone listen to what the CAA has to say unless it is identical to what is being said by the European and United States agencies? Are we taking our skills away from Europe but not actually positioning them anywhere where they could be of use?

I want also to ask the Minister about the cost-benefit analysis of this. No doubt we will save some money by not being a member of the EASA, but we will also spend a considerable amount when we repatriate the powers back to the UK and set up an institution to do the same job. Has he any figures showing how much this will cost or what we will gain? I suggest that it will be a cost, but I could be wrong.

I alluded to the observers. Will we get any sort of structure that brings in an international dimension or will we just go along on our own? Moreover, we need to know if the CAA will apply different criteria from its certification specifications. Will they be the same or are we going to set out different ones? I ask that because at the moment it looks like, through our new agency, we will have to certify each new aircraft, each new aircraft engine and each new component part of an aircraft to certify its airworthiness and so on.

I am surprised because the whole of the industry is united in believing that our interests would be best served by remaining within this system. This is not a case where there is any demand to be outside it. As far as I can see, it is purely something that has come up as a by-product of the general approach. I would hope, therefore, that even at this late stage, the Government can look again at whether we actually need this divergence from a European standard which has worked well, to a standard that to put it mildly, is untested and will have to be developed over a good many years. I realise that the Minister may not be able to answer fully all these questions, particularly as he is standing in at the last minute, but I hope that when he replies he will agree to write to those noble Lords who are here today with the answers to my questions.