As an island trading nation, the UK relies on aviation for its connections to the rest of the world. The UK has the third largest aviation network in the world, after the USA and China. And it is the second largest aerospace manufacturing industry in the world [1] . Aviation is an important economic enabler for other key UK industries by facilitating trade and investment through manufacturing supply chains, employment, skills development and tourism. The aviation sector has a turnover of over £60 billion and contributes over £52 billion to our GDP [2] . Aviation will be a key foundation upon which any successful trade deal will be based and therefore needs to be a key priority as the UK leaves the EU.

Key stats

  • 961,000 employees
  • £52 billion to UK GDP (3.4% of total GDP)
  • £26 billion exports
EU Trade: Access to the Single Market for Aviation is a priority

The legal framework for airlines to fly in Europe is underpinned by the Single Market for Aviation Service Provision in Europe and the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) – or the Single European Sky. It allows any EU airline to operate from, between and within any country of the EEA in return for compliance with safety requirements and economic cooperation. Access to the Single Market for Aviation in Europe will be essential in allowing the aviation industry to operate competitively. If agreements cannot be reached within the Article 50 period, an interim agreement may be required to ensure flights can continue in a legally compliant manner. Aviation agreements are usually negotiated separately to economic agreements.

Regulation: As a world-leader in this sector, the UK and EU would benefit from continued collaboration over aviation regulation

The UK has played a leading role in EU aviation regulation, particularly in the European Aviation Safety Association (EASA). The UK should continue to play a leadership role given the size of its network and manufacturing industry. However, if this is no longer possible as the UK leaves the EU, it will be advantageous for the UK to maintain influence in determining European aviation policy over the long-term.

Migration: High-skilled international immigration supports the aviation sector

Aviation will need a pipeline of highly skilled employees across a wide range of areas including engineering, manufacturing and services to remain competitive. Access to apprentices, graduates, as well as professionals and STEM skills from across the EU is also key to the success of the sector. Airlines operating in Europe are international businesses, often employing a combination of international and local staff.

International: Uninterrupted access to international aviation markets is vital

A number of airspace access agreements the UK currently participates in have been bilaterally agreed between the EU and third countries. As the UK leaves the EU, new arrangements will need to be put in place prior to leaving to prevent any hiatus in the UK's connectivity. A principle concern lies around the 'Open Skies' regime, the aviation agreement between the US and EU, and the implications for access to Trans-Atlantic routes. This regime allows US airlines to fly between EU airports and EU airlines to fly from the US to non-EU countries. No longer being part of the 'Open Skies' agreement would pose a significant risk to the UK's aviation industry given the UK's geographic position between Europe and North America. It could have harmful implications for the attractiveness of the UK aviation market for foreign airlines.

Funding: A new funding deal must support innovation in aerospace

UK Aerospace currently receives funding from the EU through Horizon2020 and SESAR (Single European Skies). Maintaining levels of investment in Research & Development in the aerospace sector will be vital to keeping the UK's position as the largest aerospace industry in Europe and second in the world. While the government has committed to underwrite Horizon 2020 funding after the UK leaves the EU, long-term programmes and schemes should replace current funding mechanisms. The UK aerospace manufacturing sector generates annual exports of £26billion and has an estimated global market opportunity of £3.5 trillion over the next twenty years. It also employs over 100,000 highly skilled British workers [3] and provides technology and research that has significant catalytic spin off benefits to the wider UK economy.

Exit: A smooth exit is needed to ensure continued ability to fly

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal covering aviation access, the ability of UK airlines to fly to, between and within EU countries and the US would be legally dubious. It is imperative – both for the transportation of persons and of goods – that this is avoided, through interim arrangements if necessary.

Our members say

"The negotiations need to deliver two vital things; an Open Skies agreement with the EU, and with the US; and policy control back to the UK so that the EU cannot change our laws without the UK at the table to represent the British aviation sector." - transatlantic airline operator based in the UK

"To prosper in a post Brexit world, Britain's airports and airlines need to be able to continue to provide the excellent passenger experience that they do today and provide the international connections that will ensure that we remain at the heart of the global economy." - major UK city airport operator

"The UK is a thought leader in regulations such as the Single European Sky, which benefits consumers in service quality, cost and safety. Common rules serve consumer interests at all stages of a flight, not just in UK airspace." - small aviation consulting business
Our partners have more information:
  • Airlines UK
  • Airport Operators Association

For aviation at the CBI, contact: Samir Nanji on 0)7739 494 068 or Samir.Nanji@cbi.org.uk


[1] Department for Transport, Aviation Policy Framework

[2] Sustainable Aviation, UK Aviation Industry Socio-Economic Report

[3] Sustainable Aviation, UK Aviation Industry Socio-Economic Report

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