PARIS (Reuters) - European regulators are handling bids from hundreds of British aviation firms for permits allowing them to keep doing business with continental airlines in the event of a disorderly exit from the European Union as planning for a "hard Brexit" intensifies.
The head of the European Aviation Safety Agency said it was allowing British repair shops and other firms to make advance applications and avoid a stampede for certification in case Britain leaves the EU on March 29 without a transition deal.
The pre-emptive move is the latest evidence of contingency planning for a "no-deal" Brexit in one of several sectors seen as most at risk from an unmanaged separation.
"We are preparing for the worst," EASA executive director Patrick Ky told aviation journalists.
"There are around 900 British companies providing services to European (aviation) companies and of these there are maybe 600 which ... must receive EASA approval in the event of a no-deal Brexit," Ky said.
"As of now we have treated about 200 requests."
As an EU member Britain is responsible for certifying domestic companies that provide dozens of services, from cabin work to training, on behalf of all member states.
If Britain left the EU without a deal, these companies would need overnight recognition from EASA, which is responsible for overseeing non-EU suppliers.
"For example, a maintenance organisation which services planes for Air France in, say, Manchester would today be certified by the UK. In the case of Brexit without a deal, we would have to certify it," Ky said.
Parts manufacturers will also have to adjust to Brexit but Ky downplayed concerns about aircraft worldwide being grounded as UK-produced parts are deemed to lack up-to-date paperwork.
"We have to be pragmatic," he said.
"For new parts, they will have to have a certificate of conformity ... and that depends on the (manufacturing) organisations being certified by us."
Britain's longer-term relationship with EASA is enmeshed in discussions about future ties between Britain and the remaining 27 EU members, represented by the Commission.
Ky declined comment on talks but expressed hopes Britain would keep close links to EASA, which has four non-EU associated members: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
"Does the UK have the same place as Switzerland or Norway as associated members of EASA, which would be by far the most interesting outcome for everyone? Or will there be a special status? That is one of the matters that remains to be discussed. It depends on lots of things and we are not the ones doing the negotiations," Ky said.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sandra Maler)