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Brexit: A Buffet For The Lawyers?

With the referendum deciding on the UK's future in the EU drawing ever closer, Richard Mumford, partner at law firm Stevens & Bolton LLP, discusses how a possible move out of the EU could affect the country's aviation industry.

These are exciting times for the European Union.  Even as European aviation ponders such meaty issues as SESAR, Part-NCC and UAV regulation, the binding that holds the EU together might be starting to fray.

Far from resolving a potential Brexit, the frantic negotiations between EU leaders that led to last week’s agreement on benefits may have caused more problems than it has solved. It is early days, but there is a slow momentum towards the door, and the potential exit of the UK from the EU has to be taken very seriously indeed.

So what does that all mean for aviation? Well most likely not very much in the longer term because even if the UK does exit from the EU, it is likely that deals will be struck to keep UK airspace integrated into EASA and the aircraft flying pretty well as before. 

The fiscal implications on landing charges and other fees will be a matter of policy.  The CAA currently deals with the registration and licensing of aircraft. However, it is the transition from the current legal framework to a new one that represents a major hurdle.

The effect of the Lisbon Treaty is that none of this needs to be dealt with quickly, though the two year window that would be provided will nevertheless disappear in a flash. 

However, there is serious scope for gaps to appear in the legal framework and so plenty to keep the lawyers exercised. In essence, there will be a transition of law (of all types, not just aviation) from the EU to the UK Parliament, creating an enormous log-jam of new legislation. This could be brief and likely calamitous, or more likely slow and painful, depending upon how things go.

Aviation is never that high on the political agenda and so some clever footwork will be needed to maintain the status quo while matters settle down. It will impact all areas of aviation from ATC, to maintenance, to registration, to flights and taxes, product liability and security, to name but a few. 

It is not just about creating and passing new legislation, it is about doing so in the ever-changing world of aviation, while ensuring that transitional arrangements to a new legislative framework are robust and enforceable. It isn’t just about the EU directly, either. The UK will in many respects have to stand on its own two feet in handling its aviation relationship with the rest of the world, too.

The UK doesn’t have the greatest recent track-record in aviation. We are among the last nations in Europe still to levy large APD charges, and our inability to deliver a new runway for London is making us a global laughing stock. The only bright side politically is that if things don’t go well then we might not need to build it any more.

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