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Brexit and pilots – what happens next?

by Brendan O'Neal BALPA Chairman

Every industry and every sector is grappling with Brexit and what it will mean for them. No one knows; not even the Government, it seems.

BALPA didn’t tell pilots how they should vote in the referendum, and our members were certainly split on the matter. And regardless of how we voted, we’ve got to face the challenges – and potential opportunities – that are now in front of us.

The initial reaction to the vote in the aviation sector was predictably negative. Airline shares were hit, analysists were predicting trouble ahead, and there were reports (since denied) that easyJet was looking to move its HQ elsewhere in Europe. Since then, things have settled down a bit, but there is a lot of uncertainty in the aviation industry. So where do we go from here?

We have decided to dedicate one day of our two-day Annual Delegates Conference to Brexit, and what the implications are for pilots, our industry and, crucially, for flight safety. Delegates will have the opportunity to hear differing takes on how we should now respond to the referendum result, and we will be putting an action plan together as part of those conference discussions.

We have seen the increasing “Europeanisation” of aviation regulation over recent years, and maybe we will have to find a way of extracting from that and bringing regulation back onshore. Or perhaps future aviation regulation will still lie in Europe, in the hope of maximising our access to the single market, through some other arrangement.

Of course the one area of safety regulation that pilots are most deeply concerned about is fatigue and flight time limitations, which we believe Europe has got seriously wrong in recent years. There may be opportunities for us more easily to fix this in the UK now, but I suspect this will be an uphill struggle given that the UK CAA were in support of the EASA FTL proposals back in 2012-2013.

One thing is for sure, BALPA will continue to work constructively with the UK Government, particularly the Department for Transport, to ensure that pilots’ voices are heard in the debate about our future relationship with the EU.  Of prime concern will be safety regulation, and ensuring that UK aviation continues to thrive and grow, even outside the EU.

In the meantime, we’re a member-led organisation and we’re always keen to hear members’ thoughts on this either via the BALPA forum or get in touch with me directly at chairman@balpa.org