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No more flights to Europe? UK issues dire Brexit aviation warnings

Alanna Petroff
Senior Economics Correspondent at Yahoo Finance UK
A ‘no-deal’ Brexit threatens to disrupt thousands of flights each week. Photo: Getty

The UK government has laid bare how Europe-bound flights from the UK could be grounded in the event of a no-deal Brexit in March 2019. The government published new documents on Monday explaining that if it’s unable to reach a comprehensive Brexit deal with its European Union counterparts, UK-based airlines would have to seek permission each time they plan to fly from the UK to Europe.

This could affect about 11,000 flights from the UK to the EU each week, according to weekly flight data from Flightglobal.

“If there is ‘no deal’ with the EU, airlines wishing to operate flights between the UK and the EU would have to seek individual permissions to operate from the respective states (be that the UK or an EU country). In this scenario the UK would envisage granting permission to EU airlines to continue to operate. We would expect EU countries to reciprocate in turn … if such permissions are not granted, there could be disruption to some flights,” the government said.

Aviation experts and executives have been warning for over two years about the risk of grounded flights in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“It is clearer than ever that a no-deal Brexit risks disruption to air passengers and businesses in aviation, aerospace and many other sectors across our economy,” said the aerospace trade group ADS on Monday.

“Failure to agree a deal will threaten jobs and investment, damage prosperity and disrupt aviation connectivity,” the group said. It represents over 1,000 UK businesses.  

Earlier this month, Ryanair (RYA.L) boss Michael O’Leary warned “there is no assurance” that flights between the EU and UK could continue, according to Reuters.

Johan Lundgren, the CEO of rival British carrier easyJet (EZJ.L), has been less concerned about Brexit, saying he had been reassured by both Brussels and London that at least a basic agreement would be in place to enable flights to continue after Brexit.

UK airlines have sought to limit the potential damage by registering business units in the EU, and European airlines have done the same in the UK. This would theoretically allow UK domestic flights to continue operating, and EU flights to keep flying between EU countries. But flights from the UK to the EU could face problems, or be blocked altogether.

“The guidelines outline very matter-of-factly how a no-deal scenario would impact aviation,” said Bernstein aviation analyst Daniel Roeska. “All involved hope that common sense will prevail in the end, but given the current state of negotiations, adverse effects – though hopefully unlikely – cannot be fully [ignored] at this point in time.”


What about US flights?

The government also noted it’s in the midst of renegotiating air service agreements with 17 other nations – including the US, Canada, Morocco and Israel – to keep flights moving between these nations.

These countries have air service agreements with the EU, but after Brexit, the UK won’t be part of these deals.

“The UK is working closely with these countries to agree replacement, bilateral arrangements designed to come into force as soon as the EU-negotiated agreements cease to apply to the UK,” the government said, noting it had finalised some agreements and was working on the rest. It did not specify which countries had agreed to new deals and which ones were in progress.

The UK said it had aviation deals with 111 other countries, including China, India and Brazil. Flights to these nations would continue normally after Brexit, it said.

Maintaining passenger rights

Luckily for British passengers, the government confirmed it would keep EU legislation that protects passenger rights. These rules allow passengers to apply for airline compensation if their flights are severely delayed or cancelled. Passengers can sometimes receive hundreds of pounds in compensation when their flights are delayed for hours on end, or outright cancelled.

Passengers “would be entitled to assistance and compensation on the same basis as today,” the government said.