Concerned over the number of unresolved issues still outstanding in the waning weeks before the Brexit transition period is set to end on January 1, the Air Charter Association is advising operators take steps to ensure they have European Union third-party operator approvals in place, permit questions resolved, and other approvals in the case of a non-negotiated exit (NNE). The UK left the EU at the end of 2019 and ongoing talks have been trying to settle future trade relations.
An EU heads of state meeting on October 15 failed to yield the necessary agreements to settle questions surrounding aviation operations, raising the specter of an NNE, ACA noted. “We are now into the last forty working days of 2020, which makes defining the entire exit plan and the appropriate legislation a significantly tall order.”
Some guidance has been released on basic issues, such as approvals for workers from around the EU to work in the UK and vice versa, but the association added, “We are very aware that the lack of agreed and transparent aviation legislation makes preparing for what may or may not arise on Jan. 1, 2021, virtually impossible.”
“We urge the regulators to avoid a non-negotiated exit from the EU at any cost. Anything else would be catastrophic for the UK’s aviation industry,” added Luxaviation UK CEO George Galanopoulos. “It is clearly less important for an EU operator to be allowed to operate intra-UK flights than for a UK operator. We have aircraft based in Europe, and our UK fleet regularly operates flights within the EU.”
Following a meeting with the UK’s Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority late last week on these issues, the ACA outlined an “action plan” covering a number of steps that can be taken in the absence of further Brexit clarity.
This includes reminding UK air operator certificate (AOC) holders to ensure they have a valid EASA third-country operator approval in the case of an NNE. Such approval will not be granted until January 1 but, depending on the Brexit negotiations, operators must have already applied to receive approval to operate in the EU member states after that date.
Guidance has been sent to UK AOC operators on this issue, ACA noted, cautioning those that have already sought such approval should check their applications to ensure everything is in order.
Further, UK AOC holders will be treated similarly to non-EU operators in terms of permit requirements for charter flights into and out of member states, ACA added. “This is obviously a very significant change to the current status quo and while we earnestly hope that it won’t work like this, we urge UK AOC Holders to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”
ACA advised UK AOC holders to engage with the appropriate permits departments now to confirm the processes that will be required.
“There are a variety of possibilities here, which range from some states having no permit requirements for specific seating capacities, others which have blanket requirements for all charters, and others—and this is incredibly important—who require state security approvals to be in place for any third-country operator operating into their territory,” ACA warned. “Because the requirements are so different for each operator, due to aircraft types and other factors, we are finding it difficult to provide a clear guide for everyone and rather than confuse issues, we urge UK AOC holders to reach out to the individual EU member states permit departments NOW and confirm what would be required.”
For example, ACA noted, that Spain has a requirement for a security approval that can take up to 30 days to obtain. ACA member Signum Aviation has offered support with the process and provided a list of contact details for all EU member state permit departments for reference.
In addition, ACA believes it is highly unlikely that there will be any automatic rights for UK AOC holders to operate intra-EU flights without going through nonobjection processes from the countries of departure and arrival. “Therefore, Seventh Freedom and above flights have a very low chance of being approved, which will undoubtedly impact UK AOC holders significantly.”
Meanwhile, the UK CAA has said it would issue third-country approval to allow EU AOC holders to operate into the UK beginning January 1. This requires the completion of an application and an £80 fee. In addition, the UK similarly has a permit system for operators, and for operations of aircraft in excess of 10,000 kg mtow, EU AOC holders will further need to hold a security approval.
“At present, it is very unlikely that the UK CAA would grant charter permits for internal UK domestic charter flights by EU AOC holders unless a reciprocal arrangement is offered by the EU member state where the operator is based,” ACA said. “At present, no such arrangements exist. They are however working on a block permit system, which would also be offered on a reciprocal basis to individual EU member states.”
The Permits Department only operates office hours, with an off-hours number for emergencies limited to air ambulance and humanitarian flights.
“Given the nature of our ad-hoc industry, this is a severe challenge and we continue to lobby the UK CAA on providing an enhanced service,” it said. “Unfortunately the realities of a non-negotiated exit are becoming increasingly apparent for air charter, particularly under the present Covid-19 pandemic and we urge all members to take action now to ensure you are as prepared as you possibly can be to give you the best chance to operate.”