The transport secretary Chris Grayling has conceded that flights between the UK and European Union could be disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but insisted it is “highly unlikely”.
Last week it was revealed by Department for Transport (DfT) officials that talks with Europe on aviation links have not begun.
Chris Grayling told the Airport Operators Association (AOA) annual conference: “It is theoretically possible that EASA [the European Aviation Safety Agency] could refuse or delay the certification of UK-certified planes. That is what could cause disruption.
“I think it is highly unlikely.”
At the same event in 2017, Mr Grayling said it was “inconceivable” that flights would be grounded.
At present any EU airline can fly anywhere in the European Union under the “open skies” agreement. A no-deal Brexit would require fresh aviation treaties to allow UK-Europe flights.
Last week Lucy Chadwick, director general at the DfT, said that agreements on air services between Britain and the EU comprise “an area of growing concern to us”.
She told the Public Accounts Committee: “We have not been able to start those bilateral discussions or multilateral discussions yet with either member states or indeed with the [European] Commission.”
Mr Grayling said today: “We want to get this sorted out. It’s late in the day.
“I’ve always believed that negotiations with the European Union would run right up to the wire.
“We will start formal talks [on an air services agreement] as soon as they are prepared to start formal talks.
“I have not met one single person, either in the commission or a member state, who believes there will be an interruption to aviation.”
Derek Provan, chief executive of the airports group that includes Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton, said: “‘Unlikely’ doesn’t really help the planning process. There’s a lot of time, energy and cost in contingency planning.”
Ryanair is warning investors: “Depending on the outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU, there remains a distinct possibility that there may be no flights, for an unknown period of time, between the UK and the EU from the end of March 2019.”
But in reference to Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, Mr Grayling said: “It is worth saying that the airline boss who has been most vociferous in saying that planes might be grounded is currently selling tickets for next summer and expanding the number of routes between the UK and the European Union.”
Labour’s shadow aviation minister, Karl Turner, told the AOA event that a no-deal Brexit was becoming “more and more possible”.
“Crashing out without a deal would be a total disaster for the UK aviation sector,” he said.
Airport bosses have also expressed concern on the effects of Brexit.
Karen Smart, managing director of the leading freight airport, East Midlands, said: “My biggest risk is that Operation Stack ends up on the M1.
“We expect extra processes in place which will slow it down. We’re identifying space where we would hold vehicles off.”
John Irving, chief executive of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, said: “It’s been a challenge to bring in a seasonal workforce. This year coming it’s going to be harder.
“It’s pretty clear that people who would have come to the UK to work have gone elsewhere.”
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