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Brexit and aviation

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Keep calm, and carry on – for now.


Falcon 7X on final to LCY (London City, England). Business aviation operators will not see major impacts from Brexit immediately. Unfortunately, this status quo may not last for long, with a lot of uncertainty remaining as to what the actual long-term effects of Brexit may be.
By David Ison
Professor, Graduate School Northcentral University

While the political landscape in the US has likely masked the drama that has recently unfolded in the UK (and will continue to unfold in the near term) in regard to the kingdom’s relationship with the European Union (EU), Britain’s exit (aka Brexit) was implemented on January 31 of this year.

Surrounding this transition away from the EU, there has been a tremendous amount of confusion in terms of what effects it may have on businesses, travel, customs, taxes, costs, regulations, and so forth. Although Brexit occurred without a solid agreement with the EU, do not expect any end-of-days scenarios in the near future, at least not when it comes to aviation.

For the most part, business aviation will enjoy a status quo in the near term. Beyond that, all bets are off for now.

So, what now?

Many operators are at a loss as to what rules apply or what the future holds in terms of business aviation and their associated aircraft.

With that said, panic is not yet de rigueur, as there is a transition period for aviation through December 31, 2020. During this period, for the most part, things will not change for aviation operators, as the UK attempts to work out fresh deals with the EU and other nations.

For example, through the end of the year, EU law continues to apply, and aviation still participates in the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) system. The UK continues to be a party to the EU Air Services Regulation with mutual recognition for EASA provisions.

Furthermore, air connectivity and safety agreements remain in place for the time being. So, in short, during the transition period, there should be no apparent changes for businesses and individuals. According to the EU Withdrawal Act of 2018 (Brexit), EU laws are being converted into UK law.

Moreover, the act preserves existing UK laws that were put into place to satisfy EU expectations and obligations. Supplementary legislation will be set in place to continue the functionality of transportation oversight agencies such as Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – the UK equivalent of FAA – as well as the operations that these agencies monitor.

Who’s in charge?

The UK government states that it is committed to continuous transport connectivity to support economic and social ties to the EU and beyond. Thus, it has directed CAA to provide maximum support during the transition phase to ensure a seamless process to the “new” regulatory landscape.

CAA will be available to provide technical advice and support to users as well as negotiators. In addition, CAA has been directed to support and create appropriate legal and policy support. CAA is working on creating and executing air safety agreements with the US and other nations to replace those that covered the UK while part of the EU.

Probably most importantly, CAA is also drafting a contingency plan in case no solid deals are in place by the end of the 2020 transition period. Certain assumptions come into play if there are no set deals in place by the end of the transition period. One is that EU laws will be adopted automatically.

Also, the UK will mirror EU aviation regulations for at least 2 years beyond the expiration of the transition period. At this point, CAA will assume regulatory functions that were handled by EASA, and the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements with the EU will become invalid.

Unfortunately, beyond this point, there will be no mutual recognition of licenses, approvals, or certifications, although current holders will still be authorized to operate within the UK.

Specific details as to what may be grandfathered in terms of licenses and the like are explicitly denoted in EU Regulation 2019/494. With this said, the UK has directed CAA to minimize additional requirements for licenses, approvals, and certifications.

Private and commercial aviation activity at GLA (Glasgow, Scotland). Owners and operators will have to determine what Brexit will mean in terms of tax consequences and required qualifications for crew and maintenance. Previous rules cannot be assumed to be applicable law..

Planes and pilots

There are some additional concerns for operators in terms of aircraft, those who fly them, and how they are maintained.

Holders of air carrier operating certificates in the UK will be treated as Third Country Operators (TCOs) – a status which limits freedom rights on point-to-point charters within the EU. Separate approval may be needed for such operations.

Since the UK’s departure from the EU also means leaving the customs union, this could lead to a need for aircraft to be reimported into Europe or the UK – depending on the location of registry, ownership, use, and/or operations.

The UK will recognize EASA certifications, approvals, and licenses within the UK aviation system during the transition period.

Unfortunately, there is no plan for reciprocity with EU countries. Another issue is that UK-issued EASA licenses, certificates, and approvals for maintenance, manufacturing, and design will no longer be accepted in the EU – unless explicitly validated. Pilots may face challenges depending on where they are licensed.

UK pilots can fly UK-registered aircraft outside the country, but will not be able to fly EASA-registered aircraft unless such license has been validated. Again, there are currently no mutual recognition agreements with the EU.

The sky is not falling – at least not yet

Most of the aforementioned will have minimal impact for all operators – at least over the near term. Certainly, US operators who have been dealing with the EU in terms of regulations on pilot, aircraft, and operations should not notice any hiccups, except for having to clear customs in more than 1 location if transiting through the UK to the continent.

Eventually, however, once the new agreements and rules are ironed out between the UK and the EU, there may be some finer details that demand the attention of operators. If there is any doubt on the applicability of these changes on your operation, licensure, or certification, it would behoove you to check with CAA and, if applicable, EASA prior to planning a trip into their respective spheres of influence.

Multinational companies with pilots, aircraft, and maintenance all originating from different countries with varied certifications will need to pay extra care to navigating the changes brought forth by Brexit. As always, it’s best to plan ahead with all things aviation.


David Ison, PhD, has 33 years of experi­ence flying aircraft ranging from light singles to widebody jets. He is a professor in the graduate school at Northcentral University.

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