At EBACE in Geneva today, a panel of experts discussed the impact that Brexit will have on business aviation in Europe.

The overarching message was that we still don’t know the full implications, and we might not for a while yet – but that doesn’t mean we have to just sit and wait.

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, Founder of Luxaviation, said: “Whether we like it or not, Brexit is clearly happening. And it’s not going to only affect the UK but also the remaining member states.”

He said that his ideal outcome would be retaining the “status quo” and that he hoped other EU countries would agree and work together to put pressure on local governments. Trade organisations such as the EBAA (European Business Aviation Association) and NBAA (National Business Aviation Association) will be able to make a significant contribution to this crucial lobbying, he said.

It’s emotional

One thing all panellists were agreed on is that if the European business aviation industry is to find a way ahead, we need to put emotion aside.

Pierstone’s Giulia Mauri commented: “The reactions from Brussels are somehow very emotional…Everybody would like to find a logical and reasonable solution, but the behaviour we have seen so far is not really conducive to sitting around a table and discussing.”

Margetson-Rushmore agreed: “The reality is we are in business commercially and we have to remove that emotional aspect. The more lobbying we do the better.”

Gurpreet Brar, Edelman, argued that the aviation industry doesn’t currently have a sufficient voice on Brexit, including in the media.

He said: “There are a lot of different aspects of this debate, from immigration to skills, talent and air traffic control. Those that don’t outline their viewpoint and their sector priorities are probably not going to get a hearing in what will be a crowded space.”

What to do now

Brar advised the industry to act now, even while the future remains so uncertain. He outlined three stages of action:

  • Monitor the entirety of the debate and consider specifically what that means for your sector and business.
  • Gather intelligence: “You can pick up intelligence in all major capitals today. You’ll get a sense of what the viewpoints are around Brexit.”
  • Facts: This is the most valuable and also the hardest thing, he admitted. Facts about Brexit and its impact are scarce right now. However, Brar said: “If you have done the first two well, hopefully you won’t have to change too much” as the facts do emerge.

Another area all panellists were agreed on is that this is exceptionally complicated.

Gwyneth MacLeod, PwC, said: “Part of what’s missing is a clear statement of what industry requires. If we want negotiators to be aiming for a specific outcome – and I hate to say the status quo is not an option – we need to work out what the impact will be, what we need to do to alleviate that and have a voice that says this is what we require  – why can’t we have it?”

It’s likely, though, that agreement within business aviation and the wider aviation industry won’t be easy either.

Picking up on the point made by a number of panellists that aviation is an enabler for many other sectors and the wider economy, Mauri said: “I fully agree that aviation is an enabler and I agree on the importance of lobbying. But I have a question: What is the interest of the industry? We have 28 member states with 28 different perspectives and each member has its own interests and operators.”

She said she hoped the aviation industry would be protected to avoid trade deals between countries becoming very lengthy and unwieldy.

It’s clear that when it comes to Brexit there are still many more questions than answers but the industry is keen to find practical ways ahead – there isn’t any other choice.

EBAA CEO, Brandon Mitchener, took the floor at the end of the session and told attendees: “We are open to having this discussion. It’s just the beginning of this process. We want feedback from the members on the implications for their business.”

He said this would help to drive the EBAA’s positioning, adding: “Please participate.”