Guest Post: Brexit in the Operational World

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Brexit in the Operational World

By James Loos [i]

Today’s Journal Post is contributed by a leading expert of international aviation. Jim Loos checked off all of the requisite boxes to speak with authority on this subject- worked the JFK tower and scopes at the NYC IFR, then onto Washington, Montreal, Brussels and back to the ICAO headquarters. Jim’s knowledge of the maze of international rules made him a “go to” guy on how the global  AT systems work, or more accurately, should work!

Mr. Loos has been so kind to share his thoughts on BREXIT, a subject of even greater currency given PM May’s recent political turmoil.

Brexit is a complex subject involving immigration, trade, sovereignty, and other issues that will consume our European friends for more than the next two years. The subject has become even more complex with the recent Parliamentary vote in the UK.

The primary aviation issue is air transport agreements which, as far as today’s UK rights are concerned, go through the European Union. The several elements of the operational/technical world are at the lower end of the political scale, but they are no less significant.

The UK has always been an important player in the international forums that develop and promulgate domestic and international equipment, procedures, and standards in Europe and worldwide. I surprised a colleague when I pointed out that the UK was a major participant (read that opponent) in major debates in and about ICAO in past years. One was during the Chicago Conference when participants were unable to reach agreement on an air transport regime due to conflicting UK/US positions. Twice there was an exchange of conflicting views on the VOR.[1] Finally there was the MLS debate which ICAO voted on at a Divisional meeting in 1978. This is just to say that the British are major contributors and it is not conceivable that they would be “demoted” to minor players.

When I was manager of the air traffic staff in the FAA’s Brussels office over twenty years ago, I was fascinated by the mechanics of decision making in Europe. The players then were the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), the ICAO regional Office in Paris, EUROCONTROL, and NATO’s Committee for European Airspace Coordination (CEAC). Other players were the Joint Airworthiness Authority (JAA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and just starting to flex its muscle, the European Commission. I always admired how the various European States managed to maintain a consistent position as they attended the various meetings.

The flow in those days was ECAC, composed of the DGCAs of its 32 member States, urged improvements in European airspace and charged EUROCONTROL, with its 15 member States, to develop and implement ECAC recommendations. ICAO Paris, in the form of the European Air Navigation Group (EANPG), with its 47 member States (not all members of the EANPG), provided a forum for coordination with States of Eastern Europe and Russia…and, at the other end, ICAO Montreal. ESA was in the process of developing the Galileo satellite system and the JAA was originally an airworthiness organization that expanded into other areas of aviation safety. Each group was “governed” by its Member States.

CEAC provided the forum to discuss military civil coordination.

If the UK dropped out of the EU in 1995 it would have had little to no effect on the operational side of aviation. Today that is not the case.

The European Commission has taken over, and now exceeds the role of ECAC because they have both a legal basis and money. EUROCONTROL remains the technical development agency. JAA has been replaced by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) has assumed the responsibility for Galileo. CEAC has been replaced by the NATO Aviation Committee with a broader mandate.

What problem/concerns will Brexit present to the operational world?

Neither NATO or ICAO membership is related to EU membership, so they remain the same.

EASA and GSA are EU/European Commission organizations.

That leaves EUROCONTROL. The United Kingdom is an original member of EUROCONTROL, signing on in 1963 along with 5 other European States. The European Union now has 28 member States (counting the UK) vs EUROCONTROL’s 41 so there is a significant number of non-EU States in the organization.

There are two major ATM projects which have been assigned to EUROCONTROL, SESAR (the R&D program) and Single Sky (the implementation program). They are both EU programs.

The geographical scope of the Single Sky program is the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) area[2]. That includes the UK and should not change.

The EUROCONTROL web site says:

“The second regulatory package on the European Commission’s Single European Sky (SES II) presented the creation of a Network Manager as a centralised function for the European Union. The Network Manager would manage air traffic management network functions (airspace design, flow management) as well as scarce resources (transponder code allocations, radio frequencies), as defined in Commission Regulation (EU) N° 677/2011.”

EUROCONTROL was nominated to be the Network Manager by the European Commission in July 2011. The mandate runs until 31 December 2019.

The Network Manager is the operational side of EUROCONTROL and includes the old Central Flow Management Unit. Members of the European ATM network include all EU member States and all EUROCONTROL member States plus other States with bilateral agreements with the Network Manager.

The operational side of the Network Manager is overseen by the Network Management Board (NMB). The Board includes airspace users and airspace service providers This includes ANSPs, users, the military and airport operators. The UK member of the Board is an official from the National Air Traffic Service (NATS), in partnership with the Irish Aviation Authority.

The second committee within the Network Manager is the Single Sky Committee which:

“…was established to help the European Commission implement the Single European Sky. In the context of the Network Manager functions, the Single Sky Committee has been tasked –among others – with giving an opinion on the nomination of the Network Manager, the appointment of the members of the NMB, the Network Strategy Plan, and the Network Manager’s annual budget..”

The Single Sky Committee oversees the Network Manager

Herein lies the rub:

“The Single Sky Committee has two representatives of each European Union Member State (civil and military), observers from third countries and EUROCONTROL. The SSC is chaired by a representative from the European Commission”.

The Single Sky process is in the control of the European Commission with member States of the EU. The UK could/would be a non-voting Observer on the Single Sky Committee

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) basically took over for JAA in 2002. Its member States are European Union States It also includes observer States which have entered into an agreement creating the European Common Aviation Area:

“…an ambitious agreement with partners from South-Eastern and Northern Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo under UNSCR 1244…..The eight South-East European partners agreed to the full application of the European Community’s aviation law (Community acquis). Once ECAA partners fully implement the EC’s aviation acquis, ECAA airlines will have open access to the enlarged European single market in aviation.

The United Kingdom might likely find ECAA worthy of consideration except when it comes to the Airworthiness of aircraft. Dr. Barry Humphrey notes that:

“The potential withdrawal of the UK from EASA would be “catastrophic” according to ADS, the trade body for British aerospace companies; it would take ten years, it is claimed, for the UK to re-create the certification infrastructure needed.”[3]

Dr Humpreys points out that The British probably would not be happy with the acceptance of rules which were developed without their full participation.

The Global Navigation Satellite System Agency (GSA) is an EU Organization initially established in 2004 and has a list of nine or more decision, and regulations that collectively define the Agency with its primary mission of developing and implementing the GALILEO satellite system. We would expect that the British would be excluded from this group as well.

In the basic operational aspects of European aviation, the UK would be a non-voting observer State. It is true that, like ICAO, votes are very rare, but I have been an Observer at more than a few European meetings (both at the table and in the back, there is a difference), the British will not be comfortable in that role.

Bottom line….A break with the EU will leave the UK with a significantly reduced influence in the technical side of aviation. That is not a good thing. If there could be a vote in the operational world as to what the result of the deliberations should be there is little doubt that the status quo would be the overwhelming favorite.

That is what I think I know. I’d be happy to hear any updates or corrections.


[i] James Loos, Member of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission nominated by the United States (1994-1997). Jim Loos began his FAA career as a controller in Kennedy Tower and subsequently moved to the New York Common IFR Room when that facility opened in 1968. After three years as an instructor at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City he moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the Office of International Aviation. He attended his first ICAO meeting, the tenth meeting of the North Atlantic Systems Planning Group, in 1974. His positions since then have included Special Assistant to the Associate Administrator for Air Traffic, Manager of the Accident and Incident Division in the Air Traffic Service, and Chief of the Air Traffic Staff in the FAA's Brussels Office. In 1994 he was nominated by the U.S. Government to be a Member of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission, assuming that position in October 1994. From October 1994 to November 1997 he was also the Deputy U.S. Representative to ICAO. Jim left Montreal in November 1997 and retired from the FAA in January 1998.

[1] In 1946 the UK had a competing system called Gee. The VOR was selected.The subject came up again in the 1950s when the US military pushed the TACAN system. This time the UK had a system called DECCA. The VORTAC was accepted by ICAO in 1957.

[2] “European ATM Master Plan” edition 2015 pg. 22

[3] Dr Barry Humphreys Aviation consultant, formerly Director of External Affairs and Route Development at Virgin Atlantic Airways, Non-Executive Chairman of the British Air Transport Association and Non-Executive Director of NATS

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