UK membership of the EU and the Future of EASA

Last week, the EU Parliament’s Sky and Space Intergroup held a high level discussion forum between MEPs, industry and EU institutions – exchanging views on the future of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). EASA, which regulates and maintains the safe operation of Civil Aviation across Europe, is set to go through a period of reform and modernisation – as the European Commission publishes proposals to change the legislation that underpins EASA’s roles and responsibilities, by the end of this year.

As a member of the European Union, the UK has played an important role in the development of EASA, since its establishment just over 10 years ago. Since that time, EASA has become one of the two main global agencies, alongside the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which drives the new development of safety regulations in civil aerospace.

For the UK’s Aerospace industry – the largest in Europe and second largest in the world – UK membership of the EU ensures the UK is able to influence the development of any new rules and regulations – balancing the important need to maintain high levels of safety, against the flexibility to respond to new technology and minimise the burden on industry. This approach is vital, as EASA’s operations are 70% funded by the aviation industry itself – taken through the Fees & Charges regulation which ensure all new aircraft are safely tested and certified to the high standards set.

However, at a time when EASA is likely to undergo a significant change in its regulatory oversight, a potential ‘Brexit’ could mean the UK and UK industry, has less of a say in the development of these new regulations.

As an EU member, the UK is able to have a say as the new Commission proposals pass through the legislative process, and once implemented, has voting rights on EASA’s main decision making body, the EASA Management Board. By leaving the EU, the UK would likely have to follow the example of members with no voting rights such as Norway and Switzerland – who have to follow the same European safety regulations outlined by EASA, but lose the ability to significantly shape their development.

As EASA seeks to increase its international presence in order to promote those common and agreed standards in Europe, the UK’s membership of the EU also allows it to influence these discussions at an international level. The UK has a national seat on the governing Council of ICAO –the UN body which helps to set global standards and recommendations in the field of civil aviation. Whilst the UK would still retain its place on the ICAO Council in the event of an EU exit, its ability to influence global standards would also diminish –as it would lose its status as a powerful member of EASA, where global recommendations are then adopted and implemented.

At a time when EASA is undergoing significant change, the UK is seeking to increase its global competitiveness, and over 70% of ADS members think more engagement in EU decision making is an important area for reform – UK membership of the EU is perhaps more important than ever before for the UK’s Aerospace industry.