On the 29th March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union – it’s so-called Brexit – but as the deadline draws ever nearer the UK government seems no closer to finalising a deal with EU negotiators. The risks to aviation of what’s often referred to as “hard Brexit” are mounting, despite claims from Brexit supporters that everything will be fine even if the UK crashes out of the EU.
“An assumption that ‘it will be all right on the night’ is far too risky to take,” says the International Air Travel Association (IATA) in yet another stark warning to British politicians and civil servants over its current aviation strategy on Brexit. The association, which represents over 82% of the world’s airlines says the current strategy “exposes the extreme seriousness of what is at stake” and is calling on lawmakers to prepare for every contingency.
IATA’s chief executive, Alexandre de Juniac was even less diplomatic in comments he made in an interview with Bloomberg – inferring that the current strategy was “crazy”, “unprofessional” and “risky”, as well as “disrespectful” to passengers.
“To think that you could negotiate such technical matters in the last hours on as sensitive a subject as aviation, with the safety issues. It’s totally unprofessional, risky and disrespectful to the passengers who will have bought a ticket.”
Juniac’s comments come just two days after the UK government issued official guidance on what it expects to happen in the event of a “hard Brexit” – where no deal has been agreed with the European Union. The guidance covers everything from importing goods and immigration to consumer rights, farming and even space projects.
Three sections of the guidance were dedicated to the aviation industry.
Would flights to and from the EU be grounded?
“If the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no agreement in place, UK and EU licensed airlines would lose the automatic right to operate air services between the UK and the EU without seeking advance permission,” the guidance warns.
However, the UK says it would grant EU registered airlines permission to fly to and from the UK and would expect EU member states to do the same for British airlines. For that to happen, the UK would either need to agree a “basic agreement” with the EU or every single EU Member State.
British airlines are being encouraged to apply for foreign carrier permits for every EU country in which they operate, while the UK-government wants Europe’s air safety regulator, EASA to issue safety authorisation certificates on a reciprocal basis.
What about flights to and from the rest of the world?
The British government says there won’t be any change for flights between the UK and 111 countries with which it already has an Air Service Agreement – including China, India and Brazil.
But there are 17 countries with which air services are allowed under the UK’s membership of the EU – On this, the government says it is working hard to negotiate air service agreements in time for Brexit and has already secured several ASA’s – although hasn’t elaborated on which countries these have been struck with.
“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 guidance states.
The UK would remain a member of Europe’s air traffic control service, EUROCONTROL whether or not a Brexit deal is worked and the British government sees this as a non-issue in the event of a hard Brexit.
What rights will passengers have when the UK leaves the EU?
At present, British passengers enjoy some of the best compensation rules in the world under the EU261 denied boarding regulations. Could that be about to end if the UK crashes out of the EU?
Not so, says the British government:
“For air passengers on a flight departing the UK, the same passenger rights as apply today would continue to apply after the UK left the EU. EU passenger rights legislation will be retained in domestic law by the Withdrawal Act.”
How the British government would react to changes made the EU courts to the regulations, however, remain unclear.
Would pilot, cabin crew and engineer licences remain valid?
On this subject, the UK and EU are worlds apart. The UK government says it would continue to recognise EU-issued pilot licences, cabin crew attestations and engineers licences. The licences and cabin crew attestations would be valid for up to two years – after which point, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority would reissue its own licences.
However, existing attestations and licences issued by a CAA approved organisation would no longer be valid for use with EU operators after exit day. So, for example, if you were a member of cabin crew who worked for Lufthansa but had originally obtained your EASA cabin crew attestation in the UK, you would no longer be legally certificated to operate in Europe and would have to obtain a new EASA attestation.
The UK authorities would initially adopt the same rules as Europe for pilots, cabin crew and engineers.
What do airlines and the public think?
According to Bloomberg, more than half of the British public think there will be flight delays and cancellations in the event of a no deal – despite reassurances that flights will continue as normal.
Some airlines, such as British low-cost carrier easyJet have set up European businesses and registered a significant chunk of their fleet under these operating licences to mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary not only thinks the chances of a hard Brexit are high but that disruption is inevitable – although suggests any disruption would be limited to a couple of weeks at most.