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Government Quizzed over Brexit and Aviation

Almost four months after the Brexit referendum there has finally been some formal political acknowledgement about potential impacts on aviation from the vote to leave the EU.

The opposition Labour party has put 170 questions to the government about the latter’s goals for exit negotiations, of which three concern air transport.

Most importantly, Labour has asked if Britain will remain in the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) after leaving, and if that position will be maintained continuously.

It also wants to know if the country will remain committed to the Single European Sky project, under which Britain and Ireland form one of nine functional airspace blocks.

Membership of the ECAA is already granted to certain non-EU member states, such as Norway, and there is little reason why Britain would abandon an agreement that grants airlines unimpeded operations to and within other ECAA countries.

However, states such as France and Germany, where the likes of London-based Easyjet are gaining market share, may see an opportunity to bolster their own airlines by denying access.

Easyjet may get round this by establishing European headquarters, but there are other problems with continued ECAA membership, notably the fact that Britain would have to accept all EU aviation law without any say in their formulation.

The UK’s commitment to the Single European Sky is a simpler issue. Despite its glaring imperfections, the SES is designed to streamline Europe’s air traffic management, so no-one would benefit from snarling up connections to and from the UK – the busiest air traffic market in Europe.

Frustratingly, the government has thus far refused to answer any questions about its aims, claiming that doing so would undermine its negotiating position with Europe.

There is some truth in this, but, beyond immigration, even basic targets haven’t been outlined, despite government claims to the contrary.

David Davis, the secretary of state for Brexit, says “very clear overarching strategic objectives” have already been publicised, yet many are so woolly as to be essentially meaningless.

One fundamental aim, for instance, is “establishing the freest possible market in goods and services with the EU” – this might mean anything from membership of the single market to the re-imposition of tariffs and quotas as part of the “freest possible” deal Britain could achieve.

Another is returning complete legislative control to parliament, but as ECAA conditions show, there is often a slight abrogation of sovereignty in any international agreement.

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