British airlines will be allowed to bring in foreign aircrew to avoid a summer meltdown after a last-minute backdown by the Home Office following intensive lobbying by the aviation industry.
Immigration authorities were due to close a loophole that allows British carriers to hire planes and staff from the European Union on a temporary basis in an arrangement known as a ‘wet lease’.
Wet lease arrangements are relatively common in commercial aviation and are officially known by the acronym ACMI which means ‘aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance’.
In other words, another airline supplies the aircraft and crew and provides all necessary maintenance and insurance but operates flights on behalf of the airline that has hired their services.
British Airways has entered into several wetlease deals for this summer, including with Finnair. The EU-based carrier will supply four aircraft and enough crew to operate them to plug gaps in BA’s shorthaul schedule from March 2023 all the way through to March 2024.
Under post-Brexit laws, however, the Home Office wants to close the loophole that allows airlines to hire foreign aircrew who don’t have a British employment visa.
The law was expected to come into force in the Spring, but Home Secretary Suella Braverman is said to have backed down and delayed the implementation of the legislation until the Autumn at the earliest following intensive lobbying from the travel industry.
Other airlines expected to take advantage of the legal reprieve include BA’s Euroflyer subsidiary, the British arm of Tui and Jet2, who will all bolster their Summer operations with foreign aircraft and crew.
Last year, British Airways managed to circumvent new Brexit employment rules by setting up two cabin crew bases in Spain. The temporary measure was designed to quickly fill vacancies as the airline tried to hire back staff lost at the height of the pandemic.
British carriers and airport services companies are also struggling to fill many other roles in a post-Brexit world, including baggage handlers and airport security officers. The shortages have resulted in companies offering big pay rises and sign on bonuses in order to slow down attrition and speed up hiring.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.