Airlines demand clarity from Britain on post-Brexit flying

By Victoria Bryan
A Ryanair aircraft taxis behind an easyJet aircraft at Manchester Airport in Manchester, Britain June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Yates/File Photo

By Victoria Bryan

BERLIN (Reuters) - Airlines need Britain to hurry up with plans for aviation following its vote to leave the European Union, because the deadline for preparing flight schedules in a post-Brexit Europe is fast approaching, a Ryanair executive said on Friday.

European Union-based airlines have the right to fly to and from any country in the bloc or even within other member states thanks to the single aviation market created in the 1990s.

The Brexit vote means Britain has to renegotiate that access to Europe's skies. Luton-based easyJet is already seeking a new operating licence in another EU member state, with Ireland or Malta seen as likely choices as their official language is English.

But another issue is the flight schedules for summer 2019, when Britain is due to be out of the EU, and which carriers will start planning in a year's time, Ryanair marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said.

"The message to London is please give us urgency and give us real options. And don't give us options in 18 months' time because we're planning the summer of 2019 in 365 days," Jacobs told Reuters on the sidelines of the ITB travel fair.

"If there isn't a solution that's known and workable then it becomes a factor for us and every other airline planning their summer 2019 capacity," he said.

Ryanair is already curtailing growth in Britain as a result of the Brexit vote, limiting capacity expansion to 6 percent this year against more than 10 percent in previous years.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants Britain to be free of European Court of Justice (ECJ) influence, ruling out access to the single aviation market using models employed by Norway and Switzerland. Those agreements include accepting the role of the ECJ as the final arbiter in disputes.

Totis Kotsonis, partner at international law firm Eversheds Sutherland, told Reuters one option could be for Britain and the EU to agree a different resolution mechanism, which does not involve the ECJ having oversight over the UK's compliance with EU aviation laws.

MESSY TALKS

Ryanair's Jacobs said upcoming elections in France and Germany could hold up the process, while talks would likely be messy and emotionally charged.

Other industry experts say some countries may not be keen to give Britain the same level of access to their skies as before, after carriers like easyJet took market share in their regions.

"(They) could be happy not to see some of the UK-based airlines having all the traffic rights to serve Europe," Alexandre de Juniac, head of airlines association IATA and former CEO of Air France-KLM, said last month.

Kotsonis of Eversheds Sutherland said he was confident Britain could come to a solution, pointing out it already complies with existing EU aviation laws and has no plans to change that the day it leaves the EU.

"We'd be starting discussions while already fully compliant with EU aviation laws. Also, the UK's importance in the wider European and global aviation market should not be underestimated. That should count in our favour," he said.

It is also unclear at this stage whether Britain will seek to remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which oversees safety legislation. Leaving that body could impact firms providing maintenance or the certification of aircraft parts.

Britain's government has so far said only that the aviation sector is crucial to the country and that it will seek "liberal access".

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti in Brussels; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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