There's a lot of drama about what Brexit will mean for Europe's airlines. And much needs to happen before airlines know how the European air market will look long term. But at the end of this, we expect the status quo will remain, at least for the most part.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has repeatedly warned about possible repercussions from Brexit for European air travel as soon as next year, but the carrier expects the status quo will remain into 2019, if not later, as the UK decides how best to negotiate air treaties, another Ryanair executive said in an interview.
“We’re still calling with great urgency for a solution to be put forward,” said Kenny Jacobs, the airline’s chief marketing officer. “Practically speaking it looks like everything will continue to run as it does today in 2019 and probably beyond while they’re still working that out.”
Jacobs said recent developments suggest the UK will not rush to slash ties with the European Union, adding that should be favorable for airlines. But until the UK makes its plans official, airlines will continue to be nervous, even if they suspect the government won’t cut off air routes, Jacobs said.
The airlines want to know for certain that the Open Skies agreement they rely on — agreements that allow airlines to fly whatever routes they want within Europe — will not disappear abruptly.
“We and every other airline are still saying, ‘OK, Open Skies technically runs out on the 1st of April 2019,”‘ Jacobs said. “We need to know how we’re going to fly from the UK to Europe, so please tell us.”
If the unthinkable happened and the UK pulled away from the European Union without ensuring airlines had the same rights as today, Ryanair could be among the most-affected airlines. Ryanair flies from the UK to the rest of Europe with an Irish operating certificate, and those routes could be at risk. Ryanair also operates a few domestic UK routes, along with some unique routes from London to North Africa.
“Michael O’Leary has a very complex set of issues that have to be resolved,” Michael Whitaker, a former senior executive at United Airlines and a deputy administrator at the FAA during the Obama administration, said Thursday at an industry conference in New York.
Other airlines would be in similar predicaments, and while most of the issues should be resolved, carriers are not happy with the drama.
“It’s a negotiation that has no upside,” Whitaker said at Aviation Day USA, a conference sponsored by IATA, a trade group, and the Wings Club “There’s nothing good that can come out of it. For the airlines it’s bad. It introduces uncertainty, and unpredictability. Normally in a negotiation, you have an upside you can get to. In Brexit, the best upside we have is the status quo. And other than that you have a lot of downside and a lot of risk.”
Ryanair, like many airlines, is taking precautions. It has said it is obtaining a UK operating certificate, which should give it flexibility to continue its current routes under most scenarios. It has also said it might warn customers who buy tickets later this year for 2019 that their flights might not operate if the UK government does something drastic and cuts air ties with the rest of Europe.
But much of that might be bluster, since the UK likely does not want to upend European air norms.
“We’re still making the same warning, but it looks like they’re playing for time,” Jacobs said.
Photo credit: Two of Ryanair's Boeing 737s sit on an airport ramp. The airline expects Brexit will not affect its operations in 2019. Ryanair