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Membership of European Aviation Safety Agency

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 23rd March 2017.

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“Within three months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent the Government must publish a report setting out its preferred option on the future of the UK’s membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency.”—

This new clause requires the Government to set out its position on UK membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency after leaving the European Union.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 12—Single European Skies Movement Research project—

“Within three months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent the Government must publish a report setting out its position on the Single European Skies Air Traffic Movement Research (SESAR) project.”

This new clause will require the Government to set out its position on the Single European Skies Air Traffic Movement Research project (SESAR) after leaving the European Union.

New clause 13—Membership of the European Common Aviation Area—

“Within three months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent the Government must publish a report setting out its preferred option on the future of the UK’s membership of the European Common Aviation Area.”

This new clause requires the Government to set out its position on UK membership of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) and maintaining current access with the EU and third party countries after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

We are back to aviation, Mr Gray, with the three proposed new clauses. They are all about trying to find the means to end some of the uncertainty that exiting the European Union will bring to the aviation sector. Our aviation sector is the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world. It is worth in excess of £50 billion to GDP, it supports a million jobs, and it secures for the Treasury some £9 billion-worth of taxation each year.

What happens to aviation will be absolutely critical from day one of any life outside the European Union. However, before we arrive at that destination, we must recognise—this is what the new clauses deal with—that there are a number of partnerships that will need to be confirmed not after we leave the EU, but as soon as possible after article 50 is triggered.

The new clauses would give the Government the opportunity to express in detail their preferred options for three key partnerships that are integral to civil aviation, safety and the aerospace industry, as well as to inbound and outbound UK business travellers and holidaymakers. I will go through each of the three partners, to put on the record their importance and to explain why the Government should consider accepting these new clauses.

First, there is the European Aviation Safety Agency, which is the chief certification authority on the safety of aircraft products. It is the steer for research and development, for action on the environment, and for new markets, such as drones, which I will talk about in a little while. As a member of EASA, the UK benefits from having a seat at the table, helping to develop one set of regulations for the whole of Europe. EASA also develops bilateral agreements with key markets, including the USA and Canada. Retaining our membership of EASA and remaining part of its framework must therefore be a top priority. It has been put forward as a considerable priority by large parts of the aviation sector, including the Airport Operators Association, the ADS Group, which represents aerospace, defence, security and space companies, and Airlines UK.

Not seeking to retain that membership would be costly and time-consuming, and it would also put huge pressure on the CAA, because our membership of EASA, which the CAA feeds into, is hugely beneficial, and not only to ourselves but to our European partners. The UK has valuable expertise and our staff are integral to shaping and developing the practical solutions that do as much to guarantee aviation safety in Estonia and Lithuania as in the UK and Ireland.

On new clause 12, which concerns the second partnership to which I am referring, it is important that the Government make clear their goals and their preferred future relationship with the Single European Sky programme and other airspace partnerships. Airspace management matters, particularly for improving capacity and protecting the environment. Capacity and efficiency have already been improved through the Single European Sky programme, but we need to know whether it will be part of the Government’s negotiating process after they trigger article 50. Will the functional air blocs, such as the UK and Ireland, be retained?

We have already talked, earlier in our consideration of the Bill, about the changes to NATS and how the licensing modification procedure and the appeal process will be streamlined. That is with the expectation that SESAR—Single European Sky Air Traffic Movement Research—will bring forward many changes in practice. However, we need to know whether those SESAR arrangements will continue to apply. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that when considering these new clauses.

Finally, new clause 13 seeks to report on whether we expect to be part of the single aviation market after Brexit. As the Minister and his Department will know, aviation is in many ways distinct from other areas of the economy. We must realise that clarifying these three relationships has to be a precondition before the UK negotiates on other aspects relating to trade and market access. We currently rely on the single aviation market for airlines to operate inside the EU without restrictions on capacity, frequency or pricing. The single aviation market is also the basis for many global agreements, spanning no fewer than 155 countries. If we leave the European economic area as well as the EU, we could no longer be part of the single aviation market and we could lose access to those external air service agreements.

The worst possible scenario, as I am sure the Committee agrees, would be simply to fall back on the World Trade Organisation. That would be the worst of all worlds for aviation, because aviation agreements are not covered within the scope of the WTO. If we are talking about aviation, the Prime Minister’s mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal” with the EU means nothing; it says nothing about the agreements that we will need, whatever happens, about how aircraft fly and how we manage our skies.

It is estimated that 76% of UK holidays are enjoyed in the European Union and about two thirds of all inbound visitors to the UK are from EU countries. If UK airlines lose full or even conditional access to operate within the EU area, we will end up not only damaging trade but restricting holiday choices and damaging airlines and airports. We already know from reports in the Financial Times that easyJet is set to establish a European base outside the UK. That presents a clear risk of jobs being lost as a result of lack of certainty. An article in The Guardian just the other day underlined that, in order to stay within the rules of the European Union, many airlines may well need to establish a base outside the UK to retain access to the kinds of agreements and facilities on which they rely.

I hope that the Committee sees the need for the UK to confirm its intentions about our future relationship with EU partners and for those to be a key negotiation priority. It is important to emphasise, both to the Government and to those on the other side of the negotiating table, that overhauling or upsetting the existing agreements too significantly will harm both sides and bring huge costs in adaptation, expertise and safety.

We tabled the new clause because we have been told that article 50 could be triggered within a matter not of months, but of days—or, at most, weeks—so these matters need to be resolved now and we need to see the direction of travel now. We should take the opportunity to ensure that the Bill includes a commitment to retaining access to the key partnerships that we need for our aviation industry, for holidaymakers and for business generally.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

I will not detain the Committee for long, but on the role of the European Aviation Safety Agency, I want to go back briefly to laser threats, which are covered in clause 22. During Tuesday’s sitting, the Minister said that if he had time he would try to discuss with the Secretary of State the next day—yesterday—whether we might regulate the sale of very high-powered lasers for legitimate uses. I remind the Committee that the written evidence submitted by the British Airline Pilots Association states that

“figures from the Civil Aviation Authority…show that in 2016 there were 1,258 reported lasers attacks in the UK against UK-registered aircraft” and that that is

“likely a drastic under-reporting.”

That is three or four reported laser attacks every day. Given the events of yesterday, we should always be mindful of prevention. The new offence created by clause 22 is welcome, but I have to confess to being slightly sceptical about whether it will be adequate, because I am worried about the police’s ability to detect and really get on top of this growing problem, which could have catastrophic consequences.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

I will try not to repeat too many of the comments made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield, but I agree with his analysis. The European Aviation Safety Agency plays a crucial role in excluding from European airspace and European airports any aircraft that originate from countries or companies that have a poor safety record. It safeguards the security and wellbeing of people across the continent. Given the importance of that role, the Government need to clarify whether the UK will retain full participation in the agency.

The open skies agreement created a number of freedoms for EU-registered airlines, which allowed them to have a base in one member state and to operate cabotage in another. As we have heard, airlines are now actively preparing to move operations. There is no guarantee at present that the UK would stay in the open skies agreement, and the outcome could have serious knock-on effects for the aviation industry in the UK, and in Scotland in particular. It is unclear at the moment what will happen when the UK leaves the EU, and the UK Government need to explain to us how things will work. Passengers and consumers, the aviation sector and the Government know that staying in the open skies agreement is right for the sector. The Government need to tell us their position, and how they will fight to ensure that we stay in.

Tourism is enormously important to the Scottish economy. In the UK aviation is vital to the economy as a whole and to business, and no more so than in tourism. In 2015, UK aviation transported 251 million passengers and contributed £1 billion a week to the UK economy. It supports 1 million jobs. There is a need to set out clear and transparent information about the future of aviation. Will the UK consider joining the European common aviation travel area, or are the Government going to go down the route of umpteen bilateral agreements? We simply do not know, and not knowing causes great uncertainty, which affects airlines’ business decisions about where they want to locate. Those are critical decisions for aviation and the people employed in the sector.

Businesses now openly say that they are having difficulty with their business plans; they are terrified that they will get no forward vision from the UK Government about how things will work in future, and that directly affects investment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

We have had an interesting debate. I might describe the contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield—this is, by the way, meant without hostility or even implicit criticism—as more of an exhortation, recommendation or perhaps even plea than a speech in support of a new clause. I understand why he makes it, as it is perhaps something that I might do were I in his shoes. He will, equally, understand that it is impossible for me to prejudge the negotiations that will take place.

The hon. Gentleman has put his view, and it is a measured one, mindful of the fact that planes and boats are by their nature pan-national, transnational or international, that they know no national boundaries, and that agreements developed over time have reflected that. As I have said, his case is an exhortation from a position that may well be shared by many across this continent and others.

As you probably know, Mr Gray—in your case there is no question of “probably”—I am never terribly inspired by the common conceptual preoccupations of this age. By and large I find them fairly unappealing, and so I am always a bit doubtful about certainty, having always rather preferred uncertainty. I am still holding out for an opaque, hard-to-access and exclusive world, really—largely because love is all those things, is it not?

I appreciate, however, that in some areas of life and work certainty matters, and the case that the hon. Gentleman made for it is entirely understandable. I cannot give him more than that today. To do so would be to, as I said, prejudge a negotiation that is taking place a long way above my pay grade and of which our future relationship with all aspects of the EU aviation sector is bound to be part. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to reveal our tactics in that regard.

However, I will say this—I hope it is sufficient—above and beyond what I have already said about respecting the hon. Gentleman’s position. The Government recognise the crucial economic role of the aviation sector, as demonstrated by various actions we have taken over time, not unlike actions taken by other Governments of other colours. We will seek, in this regard as in all others, the best possible outcome for the UK from those negotiations. The hon. Gentleman, and indeed other hon. Gentlemen, have made their case; they have it on the record, and I have no doubt that their contribution, like many others, will inform our thinking in those negotiations.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister has said, perfectly properly, that the ramifications of the new clauses go well above his pay grade and will involve negotiations in which I am sure he will play an important part, but which will involve many other Members. I accept that. It may well not be appropriate, because of those restraints and restrictions, to vote on the new clause in Committee.

However, the essential case remains that the future of our membership of the aviation partnerships that we have referred to has to be tackled, and it has to be tackled soon. The new clauses provide a mechanism through which it could be tackled. Even though I will not press the new clause to a vote, we may well wish to return to it before the Bill completes its passage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 14