Removal of EU Laws Creates Uncertainty for UK's Aviation Sector

 - November 25, 2022, 4:39 AM
UK commercial airlines, including British Airways, face regulatory uncertainty over the planned removal of European Union laws as part of the Brexit process. (Photo: British Airways)

UK aerospace and air transport companies are facing further uncertainty over the country’s post-Brexit regulatory framework resulting from a new law that is set to remove at least 2,400 pieces of legislation based on European Union (EU) law. The Retained EU Law (REUL) bill, which has already passed two of three sets of votes in the UK parliament, would remove hundreds of aviation-related laws from the statute books under “sunsetting” rules taking effect on December 31, 2023.

Critics of the bill have complained that the UK government has yet to fully clarify exactly which pieces of legislation would be scrapped and when and how the new laws might replace them, potentially creating a confusing and disruptive regulatory void. A UK government “public dashboard” provides some detail on the volume of laws covered by REUL in terms of identifying broad categories covered by each government department, but there is almost no detail on specific items.

The dashboard shows that more than 400 pieces of transport-related legislation would be covered by the REUL sunset process and that up to around 100 of them could be specific to aviation. There is some indication, for instance, that laws covering passenger rights, airline market access, airspace management, aircraft noise, and emissions trading could be removed.

The Department for Transport has indicated it is still considering details, such as what rules, if any, might replace those items. The REUL bill makes some provision for the “sunsetting” deadline to be pushed to 2026 following a departmental review process.

Members of parliament are still seeking to block or amend the bill, which has faced opposition even from within the ruling Conservative Party. On November 22, the government’s Regulatory Policy Committee criticized the bill as being “not fit for purpose” and complained of an inadequate impact assessment.

The UK’s Aerospace, Defence, Security & Space (ADS) industry association has not commented publicly on specific aspects of REUL’s potential impact on its members. “We will work closely with the CAA, industry, and Government to understand any potential impact of the scope of the UK’s Retained EU Law legislation on the aviation and aerospace sectors as it moves forward,” said ADS chief executive Kevin Craven in a written response to questions from AIN.

Last summer, ADS warned that worsening relations between the UK government and EU could worsen concerns for the British aerospace sector over skills shortages, supply chain disruption, and access to export markets. Craven told a June 28 press conference that threats by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson to renege on a Brexit trade agreement that he personally signed could undermine efforts by the UK aerospace sector to work with its European counterparts. The dispute over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol has still not been settled, with Johnson subsequently having been replaced by two other Conservative Prime Ministers in the space of fewer than three months.

Airlines UK, which represents British commercial air carriers, did not respond to a request to comment on the legislation.

Speaking at the Airlines 2022 conference in London this week, Charlie Cornish, the chief executive of the MAG airports group, said there is “no doubt” that Brexit has harmed the UK economy and specifically the air transport sector. He pointed to a shortage of workers since the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020, which marked the final stage of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The country’s aviation skills shortage appears likely to get more severe starting on January 1, 2023, when holders of EASA pilot and maintenance engineer licenses will no longer be permitted to work for UK companies or operate UK-registered aircraft. Earlier this year, the UK Civil Aviation Authority urged companies and their staff to secure UK licenses ahead of the deadline.

IATA director general Willie Walsh, who was the former chief executive of British Airways’ parent company IAG, echoed the analysis of the airport industry leader. He told the conference that the UK air transport industry is recovering more slowly from the Covid pandemic than other European countries.

During the conference, UK aviation minister Charlotte Vere was asked to explain how Brexit has benefitted the country’s air transport sector. She claimed that the UK will be free from unspecified EU constraints and better able to modernize its airspace.