In a speech delivered before the European Parliament yesterday, Michal O’Leary (Ryanair’s boss) declared that flights between the UK and the EU will be withdrawn for months when Brexit finally comes to pass, leading to the prospect summer holidays ruined, a deserted Heathrow airport and all the Ryanair fleet of aircraft being moved to Europe, unless the UK and the EU manage to strike new airline agreements before 2019.
Mr. O’Leary’s implausible solution is to ignore the referendum result; however his suggestion that the issue should be addressed as a matter of priority has considerable merit.
In recent years, Ryanair and other airlines have profited from the EU Open Skies agreement, allowing aircrafts to move freely in Europe. Unlike many other trade sectors, the aviation cannot rely on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. It is therefore vital that a new deal is formulated to allow companies such as Ryanair to move across European countries. Should Mr. O’Leary’s somewhat apocalyptic scenario take place, the impact on UK out and inbound tourism would be incalculable.
It is predicted that in the absence of a suitable agreement for the aviation industry the first few months after Britain’s eventual exit from the EU, widely expected in March 2019, would result in no flight connections between the UK and Europe. Mr. O’Leary emphatically points out that without an interim agreement for that period, which he believes does not look likely to happen, there would be no legal basis allowing Ryanair to fly between the UK and the EU and there would be choice but to cancel all flights. According to Mr. O’Leary, an agreement is needed by September 2018 at the earliest and cannot wait until March 2019.
The European Commission, which handles the EU side of the negotiations, has refused to go forward until the question of citizens’ rights has been settled. Mr. O’Leary is not the only airline chief that is anxious to strike a deal Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group and former British Airways chief, is also keen to see an air transport agreement between the EU and the UK. Mr.Walsh feels that a comprehensive agreement should be drawn up and signed at the second round of Brexit talks due to start next week. He optimistically believes that it is not such a great task commenting that “with policy support it ought to be relatively straightforward to agree a deal on aviation that will be ready when the UK leaves the EU.” A contention that Mr. O’Leary refutes on the basis that there is no good will to be found in Europe towards Britain.
Mr. O’Leary did not spare any criticism towards the British government for not having a “Plan B”, to the point of maintaining the government may actually not have a clear idea as to what to do at all.
The Ryanair threat to take aircrafts outside of the UK and relocate them into European regional airports would result in growth being boosted beyond capacity, whilst UK airports such as Heathrow could remain empty for months on end. It is difficult to see any alternative for Ryanair and the UK and the EU have a great responsibility to resolve all matters as speedily as possible.