EU member states will ensure that UK carriers receive no special treatment during Brexit aviation sector negotiations, Lufthansa’s chief executive has said, predicting that Germany and France will take a tough stance against the UK’s aviation industry.
Speaking on 28 March, a day before UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally notified the European Union of the UK’s intention to withdraw under article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, Carsten Spohr told Bloomberg that member states, especially Germany and France, would take a hard line during exit negotiations.
“Brexit means Brexit – our industry won’t be exempt. The basic approach is for every industry to say ‘hey, let’s pretend that nothing has happened.’ That’s something the governments, and also the EU Commission, won’t go along with. You can be sure about that from what I hear,” said Spohr, who has reportedly discussed the matter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and officials at EU level.
Senior executives at Lufthansa met the EU’s Brexit taskforce in March, raising concerns that the UK aviation industry is in denial about the consequences of its withdrawal from the EU.
In his latest comments, Spohr said Merkel and French President Francois Hollande would very likely oppose special treatment for the UK’s aviation industry.
“The UK airlines say they want a shortcut. But that’s something Mr Hollande and Mrs Merkel won’t do,” he said, adding that it would be “virtually impossible” for both sides to reach a comprehensive agreement in the two-year Brexit negotiation window.
That means there will likely be a disruptive transition period as the entire sector acclimatises to any new regime, he added.
Spohr’s comments follow warnings by EU officials last week that the likes of easyJet will need to relocate or sell shares to European stakeholders ahead of Brexit if they want to continue operating in Europe as they do now.
Assuming access to the existing Single European Sky agreement is discarded in favour of a new arrangement – as most commentators expect – UK carriers will need to apply for a new operating licence anchored in another member state in order to continue operating intra-EU flights. Ryanair, meanwhile, would need a licence to continue its intra-UK flights.
EasyJet is in the process of identifying where to establish a new EU-based subsidiary, while Ryanair has threatened to pull the plug on its domestic UK operations.
Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, warned on 29 March that the UK won’t be able to revert to bilateral treaties following Brexit so could lose its “most basic flying rights” as a result.
“If you don’t see a solution by March 2019 there’s now the distinct possibility that for a number of months there may be no flying between the UK and Europe until a new deal is put together,” he told Bloomberg.
“No one voted for restricted air travel, no one voted for higher fares and no one voted for isolation, but that’s a possibility. We hope it doesn’t happen.”
He added that the UK and EU need to develop a contingency plan ensuring continuity of flights, while making air transportation the number one priority in negotiations.
EasyJet meanwhile said in a statement on 29 March that a bilateral aviation agreement between the UK and EU was a minimum requirement of any deal following Brexit negotiations.
“When the UK leaves the EU, easyJet's minimum requirement will be a straightforward bilateral aviation agreement between the UK and the EU which will allow UK airlines to fly to Europe and European airlines to fly to the UK,” the low-cost carrier said.
EasyJet also confirmed that it would shortly announce its licence application for an EU air operator’s certificate, adding that it would retain three AOCs in the UK, Switzerland and EU to safeguard its current network.
UK government representatives have consistently expressed optimism about any Brexit effect on the country’s aviation sector. Chris Grayling, the UK’s secretary of state for transport, has repeatedly said that it is a priority to secure the best deal for the UK’s aviation industry following Brexit.
More recently a government spokesperson said: “It will clearly be in the interests of both sides in the [Brexit] negotiation to maintain closely integrated aviation markets. We have engaged extensively with the aviation industry already, and will continue to work closely with it to better understand the risks and opportunities ahead to ensure it continues to be a major success story for the British economy.”