January 25, 2018 / 7:13 PM / 3 months ago

EU could dash hopes for UK to remain in aviation safety agency

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain could be excluded from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) after it quits the EU, raising the prospect of increased certification costs for airlines and manufacturers and dashing London’s hopes of keeping its membership.

FILE PHOTO - An aircraft makes its approach to Heathrow airport in London, Britain, October 30 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

EASA ensures airlines respect safety rules and certifies aerospace products across the bloc, helping to bring down the costs of development and production within the industry. In addition, the EU has a bilateral agreement with the United States under which they accept each other’s certifications.

The EU is preparing its negotiating position for its future relationship with Britain and appears to be taking a hard line on aviation.

“UK membership of EASA is not possible,” the European Commission said in slides presented to member states last week which will inform its negotiating position for a transitional agreement and the future relationship with Britain.

The Commission sketched out a vision of the UK having an aviation agreement with the EU along the lines of those the bloc has with the United States and Canada.

Membership of EASA is contingent upon accepting the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, something Britain has ruled out.

The British government, airlines, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have all called for Britain to remain a part of EASA once it quits the EU in March 2019, to ensure cooperation on safety continues and avoid increased certification costs.

Should the UK leave EASA, its manufacturers would have to pay for FAA certification to sell their products in the United States and maintenance facilities would have to pay to be certified as meeting FAA standards.

    “It makes no sense to recreate a national regulator. At best, you replicate the vast majority of European regulation, and you’d have to do it over an extended period of time. At worst, you create unnecessary barriers,” CAA Chief Executive Andrew Haines said in a speech in September.

    If Britain is not allowed to remain a part of EASA, the CAA would have to take over its responsibilities in making sure airlines respect safety rules and manufacturers and maintenance companies meet standards, raising questions about whether it has the capacity to do that.

    Haines said the CAA was purposely not planning for that scenario “as it would be misleading to suggest that’s a viable option.”

    UK aerospace industry body ADS, which counts Airbus (AIR.PA) as a member, said last week it would take approximately 5-10 years for the CAA to rebuild its safety regulation capability to take over EASA’s current responsibilities.

    In the slides, the Commission says there could be a bilateral aviation safety agreement with the UK where both sides have separate certification systems. If there is “reciprocal trust”, there could be a simplified certification process of products from the other side, but no mutual recognition.

    The head of the U.S. FAA was in Brussels in December to call for clarity on the safety regime Britain would operate under post Brexit, saying it would be highly costly for manufacturers if Britain left EASA as the FAA would have to make its own findings, “manufacturer by manufacturer.”

    “Seeking new aviation arrangements is a top priority and we aim to have the new arrangements in place before the day of exit,” said a spokesman for Britain’s Department for Transport.

    Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London and Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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