The trade body representing UK airlines says there is a clear incentive for a deal to be struck to remove uncertainty over flights between Britain and the EU during Brexit negotiations.
The reaction came from the head of Airlines UK after the Sunday Times reported on the possible impact of Brexit on the UK airline industry and the selling of air tickets before March 2019.
Advance tickets to Europe bought from March 2018 for flights in 2019 could have small print warnings that they will be null and void if Britain does not strike a deal to let airlines fly into the EU, according to the newspaper.
Brexit negotiations will determine whether the UK can remain part of treaties such as the open skies agreement, which allows airlines to fly freely across Europe and to the US.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary warned last week: “We will be cancelling flights. We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer 2019.”
A source familiar with the discussions in Whitehall accused ministers of failing to carry out the necessary work to protect consumers and claimed they have made it difficult for airline chiefs to arrange meetings to discuss the problem, the Sunday Times reported.
The government is proposing to withdraw from open skies because it is underpinned by the European Court of Justice, which prime minister Theresa May has said should hold no sway in Britain after Brexit.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” the source said. “Airline bosses have been telling the government that it is a problem.
“If you can’t legally fly into the EU, flights won’t be able to take off. It’s that simple. People booking flights are going to do so not knowing whether they will be able to fly.”
EasyJet said last week that it will open a European base in Austria to give it access to the European market. An airline chief executive confirmed he is planning to consult lawyers about inserting the new clauses on tickets.
“There’s far too much to do in far too little time,” he reportedly said.
An industry expert told the newspaper: “The nature of planning and runway slots requires aviation decisions to be made at least a year ahead. If Brexit is 20 months away, you have eight months to sort it.
“The airlines will start sticking into their fine print, next to acts of God, the risk that Britain does not have a treaty with the country in question.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade, responding to yesterday’s article, said: “Aviation provides important economic connections which must continue after the UK leaves the EU.
“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.
“It also means protecting current market access to and from the US and international destinations.
“The UK is the third largest aviation market in the world, behind only the US and China, with connections to over 370 international destinations, and within the EU we are the largest by far.
“Aviation is an enabler of economic growth and jobs, it is not a traded good. People use airlines to get somewhere and to do something. This means that aviation brings value to both the UK and the EU, it is not only a British or an EU export.
“There is clearly an incentive, therefore, for both sides to conclude an agreement sooner rather than later, to provide clarity to both consumers and airlines.”