The airline industry differs from others such as energy and chemicals where, from London to Lisbon, companies uniformly say that the UK’s departure is a major headache. The dissonance suggests some carriers sense the possibility of a Brexit accord that would prevent hassles for tens of millions air travelers while ushering Britain, home of Europe’s busiest airport, out of the
European single aviation market.
“It’s about jockeying for position in the market and potentially gaining an advantage over competitors as the future relationship between the UK and the EU is worked out,” said Michael Tscherny, who advises companies on European policies including aviation at GPlus Europe in Brussels.
No industry in the Brexit process has a more direct link to citizens than aviation, which carries 1 billion travellers a year within the EU. The UK plays an outsized role, accounting for a quarter of the total, making it the third-biggest aviation market behind the US and China.
This economic reality confronts the Brexit negotiators, who must untwine the UK from decades of European aviation rules that have expanded traffic and ownership rights and streamlined certification and safety procedures. Letting this regulatory framework lapse in the UK without a substitute arrangement would end EU flight rights for Britain and vice versa the day after Brexit. “I am determined to avoid that particularly absurd consequence of Brexit,” EU President Donald Tusk said in Luxembourg on March 7.
‘Over the Cliff’
“We see no progress toward a solution that will address either the flight rights or the ownership rules,” O’Leary, a staunch opponent of Brexit, said in an interview. “The first industry over the cliff will be flights. And I think maybe that’s the way you bring about the crisis that gets everybody in Britain to say ‘well, maybe let’s look at this again.”’
He spoke during a CEO conference organised by Airlines for Europe, the main EU industry lobby group, which campaigns on issues like aviation taxes and air-traffic control but has no position on Brexit.
Level Playing Field
They were less coy about that uncertainty when approached afterward. “There’s a common interest,” IAG’s Walsh said. “I am completely relaxed. I am confident that we’ll be able to comply with whatever regulations are put in place.” Janaillac said letting UK-based carriers fly in the EU after Brexit must be conditional on subjecting them to the same range of European aviation legislation applied to operators based in the bloc. “Seems fair, same rights means same obligations: the rules toward consumers, the rules toward safety,” he said. “We must have a level playing field.”
Tough times ahead
UK’s scheduled departure from the EU has provoked widely varying reactions from carriers
There are dire flight-cancellation warnings by Ryanair Holdings CEO Michael O’Leary
Some say there has been no progress toward a solution that will address either the flight rights or the ownership rules
The first industry over the cliff will be flights in the whole Brexit chaos