Brussels ‘no deal’ contingency may provide Brexit safety net, but doesn’t rule out future widespread aviation, travel and trade disruption

There have been reports that the UK Government has put thousands of soldiers, sailors and air crew on standby to tackle Brexit chaos, warnings to not book flights after Mar-2019 and across the water in the Netherlands there have been suggestions that Amsterdam Schiphol had hired extra staff to cover the possibility of the need to process UK bags differently? The countdown to Brexit continues and it is only looking increasingly like it will be a hard landing for all concerned.

While new Air Service Agreements (ASAs) are starting to be confirmed between the UK and individual countries to safeguard flights, there remains major concerns what exactly Brexit will mean for the aviation sector, particularly in Europe. It is no surprise to see the European Commission taking a hard stand this week to protect its position in light of a ‘no deal’ conclusion.

We regularly see opposition politicians bicker, but Brexit has brought in-fighting to the UK’s ruling party and after surviving a vote of no confidence prime minister Theresa May has announced she would hold a Parliamentary vote on her proposed Brexit deal during the week of 14-Jan-2019 – one month after a previous vote was cancelled just hours before politicians were due to meet with a clear view it would have faced defeat.

Against this backdrop the European Commission has released details of its contingency plans for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit that includes two measures to avoid disruption to air traffic, but warns that these plans “will only ensure basic connectivity and in no means replicate the significant advantages of membership of the Single European Sky”. The measures are also contingent on the UK offering a reciprocal arrangement in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has previously suggested it will accept.

The European Commission guidance softens concerns over the validity of air services and includes a proposal for a regulation to ensure a 12-month provision of “certain air services” between the EU and UK from 30-Mar-2019, as well as a regulation to extend the validity of aviation safety licences for nine months.

This will all mean UK airlines will be able to continue flying into and over European nations in a ‘no deal’ situation, but would no longer be allowed to land and transit in the EU. Put simply, air accessibility will be restricted to “any pair of points of which one is situated in the territory of the United Kingdom and the other one is situated in the territory of the union”.

The whole of the travel industry has been putting in place myriad contingency plans to deal with the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit – easyJet now has a European AOC, Wizz Air a UK one. The European Commission’s contingency could impact Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling parent, International Airlines Group (IAG), should it not be able to prove majority European ownership.

While on the face of things, this new information at least safeguards air services for the short-term and provides a safety net, it only guarantees ‘basic connectivity’ moving forward will come with an additional cost for UK travellers who despite not requiring visas for visits to the EU of up to 90 days, they will be subject to the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which requires a EUR7 fee to register before travelling.