European airlines are reportedly pushing for restrictions on UK carriers’ ability to operate in the EU after Brexit unless the government backtracks on its negotiating stance.
A position paper signed by airlines including Air France, KLM and Lufthansa said there should be no access to the internal aviation market without “full regulatory convergence”, including “recognition of the competence” of the European Court of Justice.
The airlines’ position is being clarified but The Times reports today that it understands that the situation has not shifted since the paper was circulated in Brussels in May.
It came as Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary claimed that European airlines were actively lobbying against a deal because they stood to benefit from grounding EasyJet and British Airways flights.
He warned that transport secretary Chris Grayling could be dealing with a crisis next October if a bilateral aviation deal has not been signed to ensure that flights between the UK and EU countries could be scheduled after Brexit.
“This is the challenge for Grayling and the rest of the British government,” O’Leary said. “You’re not dealing with a level playing field here.
“The idea that the Europeans want to do a deal with Britain to protect Spanish hoteliers is nonsense. They want to screw you over because it’s in Air France, Lufthansa’s interests to ground British airlines.”
Air France said: “We are not lobbying against a deal but are making our position known to ensure a fair situation will prevail.” Lufthansa did not provide a comment.
The European airlines’ position paper states that the British government would be likely to reject a deal offering unfettered access to the single aviation market because of the associated commitments to EU regulations.
A bilateral deal would then be needed to ensure flights could still operate between the UK and the European Union.
But the European airlines’ position is that the UK should then be treated like other third parties with aviation treaties.
This would prevent European airlines from being majority-owned by UK shareholders, potentially posing a problem for BA owner International Airlines Group and EasyJet.
It would also prevent British airlines from offering flights within the EU, something that is even denied to Swiss carriers.
Asked if he was being overly dramatic on the chances of flights being grounded, O’Leary told a press conference in
London: “I’m being hysterical in the sense that I don’t really believe there will be disruption to flights in April 2019.
“But only because I don’t believe the British government will be able to adhere to its hard Brexit. I believe they will roll over.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “Quite rightly, the maintaining of market access is a high priority for the government during the negotiations and we would encourage ministers to seek as liberal and open arrangements as possible.
“Airlines do need to plan ahead and so early clarity from ministers on the legal framework would be welcomed.”
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