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Brexit: Aviation Safety Regime

Volume 788: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the warning from the United States Federal Aviation Administration that British aviation manufacturers may have to pay the United States to be able to export their products to the United States if Her Majesty’s Government do not negotiate a continuing role in the European Aviation Safety Agency or set up a British aviation safety regime before leaving the European Union.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I declare an interest as a companion of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

My Lords, we have a very close and constructive relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration and have been working with them since early last year on arrangements to replace the EU-US bilateral aviation safety agreement when the UK leaves the European Union. We are working to ensure that as far as possible, existing arrangements for the recognition of safety certification between the UK and US continue to apply.

I thank the Minister for that comforting reply but I wish to stress some points. We should not forget that the UK aerospace industry is a global leader, after the US, with a turnover of more than £32 billion. We have led the development of international safety regulations, under the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, and they are fully compliant with the American Federal Aviation Administration. If, on Brexit, we leave EASA, all bets will be off unless we negotiate continued membership of the agency. The alternative, which has been mentioned, of creating a whole new system is not supported by the Civil Aviation Authority, the aerospace industry, the maintenance facilities or the airlines. These are hugely important issues. The Government are on notice. Will they commit, therefore, to establishing a working group with the industry to maintain the regulatory alignment and ease the concerns of EASA?

My Lords, we work closely with the aerospace industry and are very aware of their views on both what is needed for the sector and the desire for a speedy agreement. We will be representing these views in our negotiations with the EU and will continue to keep the sector updated as negotiations progress. There is a precedent for non-EU states such as Switzerland and Norway to participate in the EASA system and we continue to examine the suitability of such an arrangement. We have been clear that we seek a close and collaborative relationship with the EU on a range of issues, including aviation safety.

My Lords, before we were taken into the present European arrangements, principally by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, a number of years ago when he was Transport Commissioner, were not the Civil Aviation Authority, supported by the Air Registration Board, the finest airworthiness organisations in the world? Can that situation not now be restored?

My Lords, the CAA is still one of the finest aerospace organisations in the world. It is highly regarded, not just in Europe but around the world for its expertise in safety regulation. As part of the EASA system, the CAA has been the specialist regulator for aviation safety and issues certificates and approvals. The competence to issue such safety certificates will stay as we leave the EU: none the less, the CAA is making prudent preparations for whatever scenario we are in.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that if the UK does not remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency or establish an equivalent recognised regulatory UK agency by the end of March next year, UK aviation operators and manufacturers will not be able to fly in the airspace or sell in the markets of the United States of America? This was confirmed by Mr Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration. Does she accept the view of Mr Andrew Haines, chief executive, as she will know, of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which is worthy of the praise she has just offered, that:

“I’m yet to meet anyone of substance that supports that approach”,

of withdrawal from the European Aviation Safety Agency? Does she agree that only continuing membership of EASA will prevent huge cost, disruption and damage to UK operators, manufacturers and passengers?

My Lords, of course we are aware of the important relationship we have with the USA regarding our aerospace industry. Last year we exported more than £2 billion-worth of aerospace products to the USA and imported £4.5 billion-worth. As I said, we are fully aware of the industry’s views on this and we will be presenting those as we go forward in our negotiations. I should also mention that Administrator Huerta made it clear that from his standpoint, we can make any scenario that might be negotiated work, and we are working very closely with the Americans.

My Lords, as my noble friend may be aware, there is a very significant aerospace industrial hub at Prestwick in Ayrshire, based around BAE Systems’ work on existing aircraft and Spirit AeroSystems’ work on the Airbus wings. Both these companies rely heavily on the American industrial supply chain. What are the Government going to do to support jobs and business at these two Scottish companies?

My noble friend is absolutely right. The UK has been very successful in securing a leading supply chain role globally, particularly with Airbus. The industry supports 128,000 direct jobs and 153,000 indirect jobs across the country. Of course, we must do all we can to ensure that we protect these jobs, and the industry. Globally integrated supply chains are mutually beneficial to us and our import and export partners, and it is in all our interests to ensure that trade continues.

Does the Minister accept that the creation of any additional regulatory barrier or dual regulations would undermine UK competitiveness, as well as the continuous improvement in safety? Does she agree that continued membership of EASA is by far the simplest way of achieving this?

My Lords, I agree that we need to keep regulation as low as possible. Continued membership of EASA is a possibility and we are actively considering it. The UK has a proud record in the aerospace sector and a number of distinct advantages, and will continue to do so after we leave the European Union.

My Lords, when Mr Michael Huerta, the outgoing boss of the Federal Aviation Administration, visited in December, he had a sense of urgency. He said:

“We need to know by next month because if we do not have a clear picture it leaves us little choice but to embrace a much more costly strategy of working on multiple potential scenarios”.

“Next month” is January, and he was implying that the FAA needs to know by the end of this month what we are going to do. What answer did he get at that meeting? If he did not get a straightforward answer, when will his successor get one?

My Lords, regardless of our future relationship with EASA, there will be an aviation safety agreement in place between the UK and the USA. The precise form and exact terms of that agreement will of course be influenced by our relationship with EASA. As I said, we are working with the FAA. We are updating our technical annexes to the 1995 UK-US aviation safety agreement, which predates and has a wider scope than the EU-level agreement, and will continue to do so. We look forward to welcoming the new boss of the FAA in the coming months and having constructive meetings with him.