UK Bizav Still Feeling Post-Brexit Pressures Despite Increased CAA Workrate

David Kendrick
The CAA's David Kendrick during his presentation to the BBGA Conference on March 2.
Credit: Angus Batey / BAV

LONDON—The Civil Aviation Authority gave a robust defense of its performance post-Brexit amid ongoing concerns from the bizav sector following the UK’s departure from the European Union. 

The transition period built into the withdrawal agreement reached between the UK and the EU ended on Dec. 31, 2022, and consequences since have included a requirement that maintenance staff working on EU-registered aircraft need to hold EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) approvals, and those working on British-registered aircraft must hold CAA approvals, regardless of where the work is done. Issues around third-country-operator (TCO) certification and permits have eased significantly since they first became necessary in February 2020, although some difficulties remain. 

The demands on the CAA’s staff have been considerable, because all this work has had to be added to what was already a very full slate, argued David Kendrick, the head of airline licensing in the CAA’s consumer and markets group, speaking at the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) conference. 

“Last year, we issued 10,000 foreign carrier permits,” Kendrick said. “When we took over this role from the Department for Transport roughly seven years ago, we were issuing 3,000 a year. Part of that [increase] was due to the EU exit, but the majority was actually growth within the industry as a whole.”

In the last three years, the CAA’s staff headcount has increased from about 1,200 people to 1,550; but workload has risen, too. In July 2021, the CAA took on the regulatory role for spaceflight. This new division has issued 285 licenses, while Kendrick says his department issued some 700 TCO certificates, 8,000 pilot licenses and 5,000 engineering licenses in 2022, and processed 400 applications from non-UK airworthiness organizations. 

Much of this work has required CAA staff to maintain personal working relationships with colleagues in EASA, even though, due to the limits placed on interaction between the agencies by the terms of the withdrawal agreement, such dialogue is not officially sanctioned. 

“I remember three years ago, my opposite number in EASA said, ‘We may not get to physically talk to you, but I can always have a coffee with you over the phone, and we want to continue to do so because we have the same mindset,’” Kendrick said. “I still have the same friends at the European level that I always did. In fact, the relationship is probably stronger. I talk to people with as much regularity, if not more, in other member states than I’ve always done. We want things to be right. We all have the same attention to detail. We want to drive things forward. Politics? I don’t do politics.”

CAA chair Sir Stephen Hillier addressing the BBGA Conference in London on March 2. Source: Angus Batey / BAV

In a separate presentation, CAA chair Sir Stephen Hillier underlined that collaboration with EASA continues, but that closer working relationships will not be possible until political agreement is reached. 

“EASA is an EU body. This is part of the EU and the UK negotiation, and we’re not going to make progress until that top level bit, particularly the Northern Ireland Protocol, is sorted out,” he said. “EASA and ourselves will work together. We will not compromise the safety of the system. But until that top-level politics is sorted out, you’re not going to get movement into deeper areas of mutual recognition. Aviation is not alone from this perspective. I sit on the board of the Atomic Energy Authority, and we’ve been working through exactly the same issue in relation to science and technology cooperation.”

There was some sympathy extended by conference attendees for the CAA’s response to its expanding workload, but the pressures on bizav entities remain considerable. In a contribution from the floor, Alex Durand, BBGA vice-chair and CEO of Norwich-based operator SaxonAir, acknowledged that “everyone in the last few years has over-performed [while being] under-resourced, and that includes the Authority. [But] what we as an industry are finding is that’s not enough. We are losing customers in the UK despite everyone’s best efforts.” 

Robert Walters, commercial director of Biggin Hill Airport, queried why the CAA’s permit office was only open on weekdays: “If the UK is to be open for business, surely we have to be available to give permits to people seven days a week, not five days a week?” he asked. Kendrick pointed out that permits for medical flights are issued out-of-hours, and argued that other considerations had to be taken into account.

“There are other aspects of issuing permits than traffic rights and insurance,” he said. “It’s security; it’s [availability of] Border Force [staff]. There’s a whole raft of things that no one ever sees that sit behind the scenes that allow that to happen. What we try and do is give people clarity and certainty as soon as possible. Not everything is going to work perfectly, but I think if you compare the system we have with the rest of Europe or the U.S., it’s pretty good.”

Angus Batey

Angus Batey has been contributing to various titles within the Aviation Week Network since 2009, reporting on topics ranging from defense and space to business aviation, advanced air mobility and cybersecurity.