MIAMI – Brexit is today a reality and major changes will affect tariffs, trade and mobility in the UK for the foreseeable future. Negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the UK regarding new rules have not come to term yet, but there are some that shed a light on how they will affect the region’s aviation industry.

While the Brexit deadline was set for December 31, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Christmas Eve that the Kingdom and EU reached a post-Brexit trade deal. Johnson said that it was a “good deal for the whole of Europe”. On its part, European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen said the deal was “fair” and “balanced.”

View of LHR T3 as seen from the ATC tower, by Paul Thompson

Agreed Terms 

Although the transition deadline is over, the limit on the amount of tax-free traded goods is still in effect. The EU and UK did agree on some shared rules and standards on workers’ rights and environmental regulations. However, there are new restrictions on certain UK animal food products, so cargo airlines will have to comply.

Regarding traveling to/from the UK, from January 1, UK nationals will need a visa for stays over 90 days in any territory in the EU and within a 180-day period. Additionally, the Kingdom is no longer under the ban on additional roaming charges. On this, both sides remain committed to stimulate airlines to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming.

Regarding the European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), these will stay valid until their expiration date. But the UK government mentioned plans for an eventual replacement with the UK Global Health Insurance Card; so far, it has not offered more details on the matter.

Finally, EU pet passports will no longer be valid in the UK and the Kingdom will no longer have automatic access to key security databases.

PHOTO: Ryanair.


As the Republic of Ireland does not belong to the UK, Northern Ireland will continue to follow certain EU’s rules to avoid border issues with the UK. As a result, goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK will have to pass through new checks.

In September, the Director of Belfast International Airport (BFS) Graham Keddie claimed that changes to duty-free in the UK could have a negative impact on Northern Ireland airports. While Brexit measures will not yet apply in the mentioned territory, Keddie warned that this could be “even more uncompetitive” for the Republic of Ireland, which remains as a member of the EU.

pilots operating airplane in cockpit during flight
Photo by Kelly Lacy on

Pilot Licenses

Back in 2018, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) stated that UK Pilot licenses would remain valid for use as these are internationally recognized by EASA. The declarations came after Sky News said that Pilots would need to re-issue their licenses in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

However, Light Aircraft Pilots Licenses (LAPL) were rendered useless in EU countries as Brexit came effective today. Now, British Pilots who hold the license are no longer able to fly into Europe as P1 because they now hold a national license with UK-only privileges.

Additionally, Pilots flying with an EASA Private Pilot License (PPL) but on an LAPL medical are also affected. The reason behind the change in their PPL validity is that from now on, the UK CAA and Department for Transport (DfT) are the only entities responsible for the development of aviation safety policies and regulations within the UK.

In September 2020, the General Secretary of Pilot union BALPA Brian Strutton said that if a reciprocal deal between the EU and UK was not reached, there would be “consequences for the efficiency of UK airlines and for the future of the UK Pilot profession.”

On this, Bloomberg reported EasyJet (EC) and Ryanair (FR) made some changes to maintain their routes unaffected. EC shifted the licenses for its European-based crew to Austria and did not change those for the UK. On its part, FR, registered in Ireland, did not comment on any arrangements made.

Photo: Wiki Commons

Cargo Operations

While some goods will not be more expensive, European carriers will still need to adapt certain procedures to comply with the new trade rules, which could cause potential delays. As British Retail Consortium Policy Advisor William Bain puts it, this is the “biggest imposition of red tape that businesses have had to deal with in 50 years.”

BBC reported the UK said it would delay making most checks for six months, so the affected parties can become familiar with the new system. Anticipating this, government minister Michael Gove claimed that UK businesses should prepare for facing “bumpy moments.”

Airbus UK Wing Factory. Photo: Wiki Commons

Airbus Operations in the UK

In 2018, Airbus claimed the profitability of its operations in the UK would be at risk if no deal was reached. At the time, Tom Enders, former CEO of the company, said Brexit threatened “to destroy a century of development”.

The manufacturer has warned that the established transition period was too short for Airbus to implement the related changes in its supply chain. Thus, at least 14,000 direct jobs and 110,000 jobs in the logistics network would be at risk.

During the Brexit transition, the European manufacturer put pressure on the UK to remain in the EU. Airbus’ concerns regarding the new policies include production processes and valid EASA certification to make aircraft parts legally adaptable in the UK. Wing manufacturing for Airbus’ entire aircraft range is based in the UK.

Analyzing the agreed Brexit terms, the manufacturer said days ago that the potential disruption on its UK operations were not on the table. Regardless, current Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said he welcomed the deal, and that Airbus was delighted to continue to work with its stakeholders on a long-term partnership.

Ryanair aircraft on airport ramp. Photo: Ryanair.

Other Contingencies

Days before Johnson’s Brexit deal announcement, FR notified it had to close 12 routes due to a UK CAA’s last-minute decision. Despite the airline having agreed on some Brexit contingency plans, the CAA decided to introduce wet-leased aircraft for the airline to fly outside the UK.

So far, FR requested CAA Director David Kendrick to respect the previous long-term agreement.

London Heathrow Terminal 5. Photo: LHR.

Possible New Air Operation

No longer a member of the EU, the UK will not have the power to establish its own trade policy and deals with other EU countries. According to BBC, the UK is currently in talks with the US, Australia and New Zealand. These countries do not have free trade deals with the EU.

The talks could open more operations outside of Europe for the UK. It is an opportunity for the UK to gauge what it is missing in terms of time by planning and implementing new regulations in a timely manner.

As the UK is under a strict travel ban due to the recent novel virus strain outbreak, passenger and cargo operations are facing major difficulties being on time. As a result, the current Brexit-COVID-19 scenario could hinder the economic recovery of the country.

Featured imge: British Airways Airbus A321-251NX G-NEOT. Photo: Roberto Leiro