UK aviation industry affected by Covid is held back by Brexit bureaucracy
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British aviation is struggling to cope with the burden of the new red tape brought about by Brexit, exacerbating the problems of an industry disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Charter and freight airlines have complained that they receive little support from the government after their businesses have been hit hard by the new need to apply for permits to travel to an EU country.
The pilots also said their licenses had been “seriously downgraded in value” since the last business relationship began in January.
Jonathan Hinkles, managing director of Scottish airline Loganair, said the Brexit deal had been “atrocious” for British aviation. “It gets worse the more you really see it. ”
As of January 1, carriers operating non-scheduled flights have to apply for a permit from an EU member state when they wish to land there, a process that can often take days.
The new requirements do not affect large airlines that use pre-planned schedules. Instead, they hit a network of smaller carriers, including Loganair. Many of these companies rely on short-term flights on routes that jump between several countries, for example to move manufacturing parts for supply chains.
Several airlines said they had lost a significant number of cases while waiting for a permit and claimed that their European rivals often did not have to wait that long for permits from the British authorities.
Ministers are scrambling to strike deals with EU countries for seasonal passes for ad hoc flights and additional flight rights for freight travel, but the industry has been disappointed with their progress.
UK carriers met with Aviation Minister Robert Courts in late April to push for new deals to ease the process, but say they have yet to receive a response from the government.
“The effect of Brexit on the freight sector has made it a very difficult environment for us,” said Andy Green, Managing Director of Jota Aviation. “Despite many airlines and aircraft operators voicing genuine concerns, nothing has particularly or materially changed.”
The Transport Department said it was “a major engagement” with EU member states “to ensure that UK airlines can operate to and from the EU with minimal administrative requirements” .
Loganair and Jota Aviation have occasionally resorted to unlicensed flight, citing a mysterious Sky Treaty signed in Paris in 1956 to circumvent new Brexit rules.
Green said he had had “terse” exchanges with aviation authorities when he attempted to fly without a license, but sees this as the only way to continue doing business.
“If there is a legal mechanism for us to generate income, we will. The fact that it makes him politically uncomfortable is not my fault, ”he said.
British pilots are also aggrieved. Some 3,500 pilots wrote to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this month complaining about “injustice and imbalance” in the EU’s trade deal.
While UK licensees are no longer able to fly EU registered planes without a lengthy and costly conversion, the UK will recognize EU licenses for two years from January 2021, creating a “one-sided” relationship that costs British pilots jobs, according to Balpa, the pilots’ union.
One pilot made redundant by downsizing at Norwegian Air was unable to take a job as an airplane pilot in Europe, while another was denied a UK-based job with Ryanair because the airline now requires a European license, the union said.
“UK pilot licenses have been seriously degraded in value and utility,” Balpa said.
The government believes it is possible to negotiate further amendments to trade agreements to ensure bilateral recognition of pilot licenses, and met with Balpa at the end of June to discuss the matter further.