As a member of the European Union, the UK’s aviation and aerospace industries were licenced and regulated by European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Brexit saw the controversial decision for the UK to take back full control of its aviation regulatory functions from EASA and re-establish the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as the regulator. This decision has impacted heavily on maintenance engineers, maintenance and training organisations, as well as pilots and cabin crew. In terms of aviation regulation the EU now considers the UK as a ‘third country’.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 contained certain temporary exemptions and saving provisions that allowed the CAA to continue to recognise various EASA issued licences, approvals and certificates for the operation and maintenance of UK-registered aircraft. This enabled a transition period designed to allow the CAA to establish new arrangements. This transition period was largely one-sided, with EASA ceasing to recognise licences previously issued by UK authorities from 1 January 2021. Accordingly, any such license could not be transferred to an EASA member.
In 2022 the CAA launched a simplified application processes for those who previously held UK licences to regain them. It says it saw a large number of applications. The process also allowed EASA licence holders to convert to UK licences. The streamlined process ended on 31 December 2022. After this date the CAA no longer recognised EASA approvals, licences, and certificates, meaning maintenance engineers (and pilots) with these licences wishing to gain their CAA licence are now required to go through the full conversion process, including examinations.
In terms of standards, ironically, post 1 January 2023, the UK CAA has continued to use EU (EASA) Part 66 licencing for maintenance engineers, Part 145 approvals for maintenance organisations and Part 147 approvals for maintenance training organisations. The Part 66 aircraft maintenance licence allows the holder to issue a certificate of release to service for an aircraft, following maintenance, applicable to the category of the licence held by the engineer.
CAA Part 66 aircraft maintenance licences are valid for five years. Initial Part 66 licences are gained after two to three years’ training (time depending on type of course) under a Part 147 approved training provider and in the case of B-licence holders are followed by a type rating course. Licences range from A-licences (A1 to 4) which are technician status (shorter training requirements) and cover line maintenance on aeroplanes and helicopters, to B-licences, which are full engineer status and cover airframes, engines, systems or avionics on both types.
Engineers and technicians are required to complete approved continuous practical (on the job) training and keep a logbook and work records which must be signed off and stamped by a quality manager at its Part 145 approved employer. When renewing licences, engineers must supply logbooks and work records, a recommendation from their quality manager, original examination certificates and a certified copy of their company’s authorisations.
The UK’s decision to de-couple from EASA has resulted in the total loss of mutual recognition, and in practical terms CAA-licenced engineers and maintenance organisations can now only work on UK-registered aircraft, although the CAA does have a mutual recognition arrangement (a bilateral agreement) with the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) which expires on 31 December 2024.
Leading aviation law firm Bird & Bird says the implementation of additional annexes to the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement, to allow more mutual recognition, post-Brexit, is unlikely to be a speedy process. However, according to EASA, only two aspects of aviation safety cooperation are addressed in the future framework on trade and cooperation; namely certain simplifications of the approvals covering design and manufacture of aeronautical products.
The Department for Transport was asked to clarify the UK’s position on any future plans for the licencing and regulation of UK registered aircraft maintenance engineers. A spokesperson said: “At present, there are no planned changes to aeronautical maintenance and engineer licensing standards following the UK’s departure from EASA. However, we keep all regulations under review and withdrawing from the EU means we have more autonomy to tailor aviation regulation to support the UK aviation industry according to its competitive needs… The Department launched the Generation Aviation programme last year with the aim of raising awareness of aviation careers and increasing the number of people applying for aviation jobs. This programme is a collaboration between government, industry and outreach partners.”
LESS THAN IDEAL
Like many of the little-publicised effects of Brexit, the situation affecting the UK’s aviation industry is less than ideal and while there could be a glimmer of hope of some broader mutual recognition enjoyed under EASA regulation, pre-Brexit, it is probable any resolution under a future bilateral agreement (similar to the one with the FAA) will take significant time to come to fruition.
Despite the transition period having ended on 31 December 2022, the CAA has publicly stated it is ‘still in transition’, which was evident while researching this feature. When asked to comment on progress with any future changes to regulation, standards and licencing for aircraft maintenance engineers, the UK CAA said ‘it was not in a position to provide any information’. The Royal Aeronautical Society’s Airworthiness and Maintenance Specialist Group did not respond to a request for comment; the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association referred the author to the CAA, as did a compliance manager at provider Air Service Training, when asked for their understanding of current and any future arrangements.
BOX: MISSED OPPORTUNITY
While in no way compromising safety, the changes in regulation and licencing have created tiers of additional administration (and cost), a loss of flexibility for the UK commercial aviation industry and its employees with no material change or improvement in terms of standards. So could the current situation have been avoided?
In March 2018, the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee published a report on the impact of Brexit on the aerospace sector. Part of its conclusion read: “The UK aerospace sector’s route to the global market is founded on participation in a harmonised global regulatory system. The sector has nothing to gain from regulatory divergence, since that would lock it out of global trade. In the case of aerospace, there is no trade-off between close harmonisation with the EU and access to markets beyond the EU. Instead, the two goals are complementary.
“It is in the UK’s national interest to remain a member of EASA, and the committee welcomes the government’s indication that it will seek to do so. Leaving the European Aviation and Safety Agency without any kind of deal would be highly disruptive for the UK, the EU and global aerospace and aviation. The government and its negotiating counterparts in the EU should rule this out as soon as possible by making firm arrangements for a transition or implementation period. Even a smooth transition out of EASA could be protracted and costly, while giving no practical benefit over continued membership.”
It is likely that many British engineers working in commercial aircraft maintenance organisations, both in the UK and the EU, wish that the government overseeing Brexit had heeded the committee’s recommendations.-Peter Shakespeare