Brexit: Aerospace’s Y2K moment, says FAA’s Daniel K. Elwell

Brexit, one of the hottest topics at last week’s Farnborough Airshow, isn’t just a UK or even an EU issue. It affects companies globally – and nowhere more so than in the aerospace industry. Daniel K Elwell, Acting Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), shared what the regulator is doing to prepare.

Elwell, who was speaking during the FINN Sessions conference, said: “Brexit is as important to the FAA and the US as it is to any country who does business with the EU and the UK...but our business is a business of safety. Aviation is an international endeavour. We have to make sure that all of our activities between the US, the UK and the EU are safe, efficient, seamless.”

Disruption

He added: “And let's face it, Brexit is disruptive. It has the potential to be disruptive by March 2019 if we don't see a path  particularly as Nicky Morgan said, with regard to the regulator industry, which, of course, aviation is. That's why we're talking about it."

"We need an idea of where this is going to land sooner rather than later," he commented.

Elwell said a “lack of clarity” means the FAA has to pursue “all possibilities”.

“And, of course, we have to start that now,” he said. “We have to start developing the relations we have to have in place if there's no deal. What are the practices, what are the regulations that we have to adapt or amend if, for instance, as was suggested in the whitepaper, there's an associated membership in EASA?”

He added: “It takes a tremendous amount of our resources to figure out all of the ramifications, all the possible paths. What we prefer is to have, again, clarity. And that way, we don't have to spend as much time, resources and energy – we can focus on exactly what's going to happen. It's the not knowing that continues to be disruptive.”

In her presentation,  Nicky Morgan MP, Chair of the Treasury Committee, suggested a Brexit deal would likely come at the eleventh hour.

 “I kind of hope that doesn't happen, Elwell commented. “I hope that real soon, they will come away with a decision on how to go forward on these highly regulated areas. What happens on April 1st will be safe. No matter what happens in the political sphere, aviation is going to be safe, and aviation is going to be safe between countries." 

No deal?

On the measures in place for the eventuality of an a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, Elwell said: “There’s nothing in place. There's contingency planning of course; it would be foolish not to be engaged in contingency planning. What our people are doing on all sides is examining if there was no deal, what needs to be in place that isn't currently? We identify that and then we begin to figure out what work needs to be done to put those things in place.”

“We have a 1995 agreement with UK, a bilateral aviation safety agreement,” Elwell explained. “My understanding is it's technically still in place. But, of course, it's been subsumed by the BASA that we have with EASA. What we would need to do in the case of  what some are calling the worst-case scenario, no deal, is re-establish a bilateral agreement with UK and take that forward.”

“And that could take years,” he noted.

It’s going to happen

He compared the situation to  Y2K – in 1999/2000 when people were worried about the impact of computer bugs related to the formatting and storage of calendar data as we turned into a new century.

“We know it's coming,” Elwell said. “It's going to happen and no matter what happened on January 1st to January 2nd, we [had] to still continue to use the grid. We still [had] to turn on computers. It has to work, so it will.”

Watch the full video for Elwell's further insights on regulating drones and air taxis, and the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on airspace management.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter. 

Join The Discussion