European Union Aviation Safety Agency - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:39 pm on 19 March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Conservative 2:39, 19 March 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling this Question because it is incredibly important. I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation, as a private pilot and as an aircraft owner/operator. Aviation is a globally connected industry at all levels. It is also a heavily regulated industry which is greatly affected by what individual Governments decide. It is clearly advantageous for the industry, which is already facing unprecedented challenges this year, if Governments can work together as much as possible to ensure equivalence in regulations and make things simple for businesses.

That is a general point. More specifically, the reality of our geography means that we must work very closely with both the EASA and the FAA to facilitate the prosperity of our airlines and air cargo operators in the future.

The UK is home to a number of world-leading airlines and many more big brands depend on us as a transatlantic hub. Maintaining this position in the global travel market must be a priority for the Government in their Brexit negotiations. I am sure that no noble Lord would be happy if they suddenly found themselves having to connect through Frankfurt on their next trip to the United States.

That said, I will focus my comments on how this change will impact the UK’s very important general aviation sector, which contributes more than £3 billion to our economy. General aviation is the lifeblood of the commercial aviation sector. Small clubs train the pilots and engineers of the future and local airfields provide the easy access entry point that inspires people into lifelong careers in the aviation industry. Yet general aviation is probably the aviation sector most reliant on EASA regulations, since its operations tend to be more localised to the European continent.

EASA has made it clear in recent weeks that it is determined not to make things easy for the UK by removing the exemptions we once held on several GA activities. One particularly damaging change is that UK national private pilot licence holders—people who have private pilot licences just for operating in the UK airspace and within visual rules—will be able to fly an aeroplane with an EASA certificate of airworthiness from 8 April, effectively meaning that many pilots will be prevented from flying until after the transition period. However, there have been more changes. Take the refusal to renew the exemption on distance from cloud minima within class D airspace, which is a safety issue, since our prevailing weather in the UK includes frequent low cloud bases. In fairness, the Department for Transport wanted to renew the measure, but its application was rejected by EASA for no reason other than rules tidying.

My point is that it is clear from these measures that this divorce is not one-sided and that the UK Government should not shoulder all the blame for this split. That said, the new situation of uncertainty about a life after EASA is unsettling for the small businesses of the GA industry. The Government must be on hand to provide clear and concrete answers about regulation changes so that businesses have time to plan. Furthermore, the Government must ensure that the transition occurs as quickly and painlessly as possible to a UK-based system. This means that pilot licences must be validated in a timely manner and that all current EASA-certified aircraft must receive an equivalent UK certification in good time.

I will say a bit about CAA resources. To facilitate the smooth transition, it is critical that the CAA is provided with increased resources, especially staff, to manage its newfound responsibilities. EASA currently has hundreds of British employees working across many different fields. The Government should look at ways to bring these people back so that we can use their expertise to make sure that the newly independent CAA gets off to a strong footing.

I will highlight the particular problems faced by flying schools in this process. Schools in the UK have students at various stages of training towards commercial licences, which can take years. These students will now be unsure whether this training will be valid or useful when they come to the end of it. The businesses themselves are concerned that student numbers will drop dramatically, since perspective candidates will get more value out of completing a licence registered in an EU country, compared with a purely UK-based licence. I therefore contend that the Government must act urgently in the wake of a split with EASA to prevent an exodus of flight training from the UK. By the way, any such measures should be accompanied by a reduction of the taxes on flight training to make the UK’s industry more competitive globally and to off-set any disruption potentially caused by a split with EASA.

The UK must recognise, as it takes back control of its aviation regulation, that global integration is advantageous for the industry. I therefore implore the Government to work with the European authorities now to agree a system of regulatory equivalence on certification, maintenance and licensing. Equivalence on certification would streamline the process for GA manufacturers, meaning that they would not have to go through bothersome processes to certify separately in the UK and Europe. This would encourage manufacturers of new, safer and greener aircraft designs not to bypass Britain in their investment plans. Equivalence on maintenance would make aircraft and the engineers who service them more interchangeable between the UK and our neighbours, benefiting the market on both sides of the channel.

Lastly, we need equivalence in licensing, allowing pilots, both commercial and private, to maintain European privileges through a paperwork exercise rather than retraining. This is similar to the arrangement EASA enjoys currently with the FAA.