US civil aviation watchdog presses UK over European safety standards

A plane take off from London City Airport

The boss of the US civil aviation regulator has urged the UK to reveal by next month whether it will remain in a key safety body after Brexit.

Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flew from Washington to London today for talks with transport secretary Chris Grayling before meetings with European Union officials in Brussels on Wednesday.

He told reporters he wanted to "bring a level of urgency" to the UK's deliberations over what safety standards it would meet for the manufacture of aviation products and aircraft maintenance.

The competency of UK firms is currently accepted by the FAA because the UK is a member of the EU's European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which has a bilateral agreement with the US.

Mr Huerta said this status "essentially evaporates" with Brexit in March 2019 and the UK must decide whether to adopt the framework of EASA or create its own standards.

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He warned that the latter would be a more complicated and expensive process for the US and the UK, but called for greater clarity either way early in the new year.

Mr Huerta said: "Our feeling is that by next month, if we do not have a clear picture of what the end state is going to look like, that leaves us with little choice but to embark on the much more costly strategy of working multiple scenarios.

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"We can certainly do that, but it makes it much more difficult."

The UK could follow the path of Norway and Switzerland, which have associate membership of EASA.

Together the US, the UK and Europe represent the largest international aviation market and any disruption to trade and operations would have "ramifications across the world", Mr Huerta said.

Without a safety regime in place, UK firms would have to individually prove they meet FAA standards to sell to the US.

Mr Huerta said: "They can't export to Boeing unless we explicitly find that they are meeting appropriate standards for the manufacture of that part.

"That would mean we, the FAA, would have to deploy resources to come and make that finding for every manufacturer that might be making parts that comprise Boeing aircraft, and there's a question of bandwidth, how much of that can be done."

This process would cost the UK millions of pounds, he added.

UK aerospace trade body ADS has urged the Government to "secure access to and influence in EASA", claiming that rebuilding the certification capabilities of the Civil Aviation Authority would involve "significant time and cost".

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has previously warned that flights between the UK and the EU will be grounded in summer 2019 if no agreement on aviation is reached as part of the Brexit negotiations by September next year.

The single market for aviation, created in the 1990s, means there are no commercial restrictions for airlines flying within the EU.

In a speech in July, Mr Grayling said it was "one of our priorities" to secure the best possible access to European aviation markets, adding that it was in the interests of all countries to "seek open, liberal arrangements".

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