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Brexit – what does the FTA mean for pilots?

by Martin Chalk Former ECA President

Although many consider them very dry – boring even – the international bilateral agreements which allow airlines to mount services across international borders are vital, in order to give their operations the necessary level of legal certainty. That is why BALPA has been watching closely the negotiations between the UK and EU on our future trading relationship – aviation is one of the subjects covered in the 1268 pages of the recently agreed document.

There are a number of areas which concern professional pilots, on which we will try to deliver some clarity in this post.

Pilot Licences. This is covered in Article AIRTRN.18: Aviation Safety, paragraph 2, where mutual recognition with a minimum standard of the ICAO Chicago Convention is established. Prior to the agreement being struck, the CAA were suggesting that UK licence holders flying EU registered aircraft after the 1st of Jan would need to acquire an EASA, EU based licence or obtain an EASA validation of their UK licence. However, this article seems to supersede that requirement, albeit coming much too late for anyone to take advantage of it.  BALPA will seek to confirm beyond doubt, as a matter of priority, if there is now full, mutual recognition agreed for UK and EU issued pilots licences and ratings, etc., without further cost or cumbersome bureaucracy.

Our Employers. The regulations governing the ownership and control of airlines, access to routes between European city pairs and wet leasing arrangements have all changed for 2021.

The new agreement sets out that all UK airlines must be majority owned and effectively controlled by the UK or UK citizens in order to take advantage of routes between the UK and the rest of the European Economic area (the EU plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). However, if a UK registered airline was properly licenced under EU rules on Dec 31st, ownership is extended to include EU Member States and their citizens. BALPA believes that covers all our employers, which can therefore continue to operate as UK registered and regulated airlines, albeit with the more restricted access to EU routes.

The new agreement allows for UK scheduled passenger airlines only to fly to points in the EU, not within the EU or on from it. For those who know, this is only 3rd and 4th – not 5th, 7th, 8th or 9th freedoms of the air. 6th freedoms are also likely possible in practice, although they are neither explicitly included nor excluded.  For all cargo operations, individual member states of the EU can negotiate 5th freedom operations for UK airlines, if they wish (i.e. beyond the EU operations; e.g. EMA to LGG to HKG and back). Charter services can operate 3rd and 4th freedom services, and Member States can negotiate further access so long as they “do not constitute a disguised form of scheduled services”. The agreement specifically excludes EU Member States and the UK adding other facilities to the agreement unless negotiated through the EU itself.

ACMI leasing, or wet leasing as it is more readily known, is an unbalanced provision of this new agreement. UK airlines are restricted from bidding for wet lease contracts from EU airlines unless it is for exceptional circumstances or seasonal needs, and for only so long as those circumstances exist. However, EU airlines have the right to bid for unrestricted contracts to fly for UK airlines. BALPA is concerned that this will see a drift of jobs away from UK airlines as it will be more attractive for ACMI operators to be EU based.

The so-called horizontal articles, those which apply across the multi industry EU-UK agreement, also ensure a number of other benefits BALPA considers important. Working conditions must be maintained at or better than current EU mandated levels. There are also commitments to adopt and adhere to International Labour Organisation principles and conventions, including the 2008 ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation. This means that the CAA/UK Government cannot both adhere to this agreement and also water down or remove the Working Time Directive, or other EU based employment protections. The social, environmental and consumer non-regression articles are backed up by an agreed arbitration procedure. This is likely to be less effective than BALPA had hoped for, but is better than domestic enforcement only.

Finally, it is likely that when aviation is freed from the much more political atmosphere, which has shrouded the negotiations leading up to this agreement, a more liberal and balanced outcome is possible. There is a specialised committee for aviation which has the ability to amend the agreement, at least in some aspects. BALPA will be an active participant for our members in the consultative body, which was also established by the new agreement.

These are only the “highlights” of a technical and detail dense agreement, but if you have any questions as to how it is likely to affect you or your airline; BALPA has its own experts as well as access to the CAA and DfT to seek the answers you need. Please contact us at Communications@balpa.org.