After flying in formation with the European Union for almost five decades, the UK has made the decision to leave the EU and chart their own journey forwards. It was a bold decision, but it’s meant that uncertainty has creeped into the UK aviation industry, worrying industry leaders and casting into doubt the long-term success of the industry.
To make matters worse, prime minister Theresa May has performed a remarkable U-turn to announce that there will be a general election on the 8th of June, which could yet make cause even more headaches for the aviation industry.
HM Treasury’s pre-referendum assessment of Brexit, which was lambasted by the Leave camp, warned that voting to leave the EU would cause “significant disputation” to the UK aviation sector, highlighting that “the inherently cross-border nature of the sector means UK-based businesses would need to comply with EU rules when flying to EU destinations”, which would mean either blanket adopting all EU aviation policy or implementing different regulations for the UK, which would likely lead to an increase in costs for airlines (and customers).
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Tourism Economics suggest that a so-called ‘hard Brexit’, the UK passenger market would be around 6% smaller in 2035 than it had been in the case of a ‘soft Brexit’.
For the part of the Conservative Government, they’ve been quick to shoot down notions of ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, though it’s undeniable that they’ve taken a tough line with the EU, saying at one point that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
In accordance, the aviation industry has been making plans around this rather tough, Conservative led Brexit. However, this general election throws new questions in; who will win, and what will that mean for the aviation sector and Brexit?
Though the Conservatives have a strong lead in the polls, it’s not inconceivable that the left-wing parties in Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and others could band together to create a government, should they gather enough seats to control a majority of the house.
Regardless of the outcome though, it’s certain that we’ll be leaving the EU, and with it, Europe’s Open Skies programme. This will force the UK into bilateral agreement negotiations with the EU to allow flights to and from Europe, without any say in how these rules are drawn up or enforced. Ryanair’s chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs says: “The best we can hope for is a new bilateral… however, we worry that Britain may not be able to negotiate such a bilateral in time for the release by airlines of summer 2019 schedules in mid-2018.”
Airlines seem frustrated that this general election will cause yet more uncertainty and push back vital talks which should be happening now between aviation heads, the government and the European Union.
“People will continue to want to fly across Europe after the UK leaves the EU,” says Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK. “We look forward to the EU and UK reaching an agreement as soon as possible that allows consumers and businesses from all European countries to continue to travel to and from the UK and around Europe just as they do today.”