Brexit: what next for the aviation industry?

At the time of writing, it has now been a week since those of us in the UK woke up to the result of the biggest decision the country has made in decades.  The UK has decided that it no longer wishes to remain part of the European Union and, consequently, things have the potential to be very different – or will they?

The difficulty in writing so soon after the result is that there is no telling yet just how different they will be. In fact, there’s no telling at this time who the next Prime Minister will be and whether the current opposition party is in any state to effectively serve as such. Those at Westminster seem to have set themselves up in circular firing squads at a time when what is really needed for UK Plc is some calm and clarity.

I suspect that the vote of many within the aviation industry was to remain within the EU. Businesses like certainty, investors like certainty, staff like certainty and customers like certainty.  This of course is not limited to the aviation industry but the UK’s membership of the EU governs traffic rights (within the EU and EU-USA), market access, safety, security, air traffic management, the environment, workforce issues, consumer rights, freedom to travel and the economic regulation of airports and airlines.  

At the moment it is business as usual (save for the political blood-letting) but of course people are nervous. The ongoing debate regarding “in” or “out” will roll on for some time together with the inevitable media hyperbole on both sides.  Although things are unsettled now and we are seeing a very visceral reaction to the referendum, I am cautiously optimistic that in the longer run, things are actually unlikely to change a great deal.  The UK has not yet triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and I’m not sure I could hazard a guess as to when it will.  

One thing I think is certain - the UK and the EU will not turn their backs on one another entirely given the rights of millions of workers and travellers, and the trillions (in numerous currencies) of trade between the two.  There are other models; the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, the Icelandic model and so on, so I am sure there can be a British model. I also think such model will not be radically different to where we are today.

However, one particularly irksome result for the industry following the referendum is that it has given the government yet another excuse to delay its decision on a third runway.  Not a great start to a brave new world outside of the EU.  Indeed, as seasoned UK lawyers, we know that anyone hoping for a simpler regulatory regime under laws passed by our Parliament outside of the EU is likely to be disappointed.

Reasons to be cheerful? Well, we do have Farnborough coming up and I am looking forward to catching up with clients and contacts to hear their views on Brexit the new F-35B and the A320 neo! I always think that the “feel” of Farnborough is a good indication of how the industry is doing so it will be an interesting, and hopefully positive, week.

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