Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Flights Could Never Be Grounded by Brexit, Grayling Says

  • Transport minister: ceasing to fly in 2019 is ‘inconceivable’
  • Any transitional border deal would need to safeguard airlines

U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said there’s no chance that planes will be grounded when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019 and that any transitional arrangements on border controls are likely to be contingent on maintaining maximum access for airlines.

The notion that jets could be forced to stop flying once Brexit is implemented shouldn’t be taken seriously, Grayling said in an interview. Airlines including Ryanair Holdings Plc have said it’s possible flights could be curtailed for weeks or months if negotiators fail to make early progress on the issue.

“It’s inconceivable that anyone on either side would want to stop planes flying,” Grayling said Friday at Manchester Airport. “The implications for the tourist industries of parts of the EU of not having the aviation links that they have at the moment are deep and profound. Everyone benefits from having good aviation links and I haven’t the slightest doubt that post-2019 we will retain them.”

Any deal offering EU citizens free movement to Britain beyond 2019 in order to extend negotiations for a final settlement on trade would most likely be tied to airline access, Grayling said. The U.K.’s Times newspaper reported earlier that Prime Minister Theresa May is ready to keep the border open for a further two years under a plan devised by Chancellor Philip Hammond.

‘Sensible Arrangements’

“The reality is that if there were to be a transitional agreement then I would undoubtedly expect aviation to be one of the subjects that would be discussed,” he said. “We want to have early discussions about aviation, we want to have sensible arrangements for the future.”

Dublin-based Ryanair, which draws about 40 percent of customers from the U.K., said last month that Britain could lose air links with the EU for months after Brexit if aviation isn’t made a priority in negotiations. The carrier needs to see evidence of a solution before Christmas or could otherwise assume the worst and scale back future flying, marketing chief Kenny Jacobs said.

The threat to routes arises because the regime is governed by the European Court of Justice, Jacobs said, so that an entirely new EU-U.K. arrangement would need to be negotiated. Without that, flights would be limited by earlier bilateral treaties typically dating from the 1980s that might, for example, restrict Ireland-London services to just three a day versus 30 now.

U.S. Visit

Grayling said that his recent comments on the BBC’s Newsnight program suggesting that a transitional timetable for Brexit wouldn’t be necessary didn’t mean that one shouldn’t be considered.

“What I said is it’s not automatically necessary to have a transitional arrangement because we have, obviously, exact alignment on regulation and no-tariff regimes in place at the moment,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there won’t be one. One could reach an early agreement if that were possible, one could have a transitional arrangement. These are all things that are going to have to come out in the wash.”

The minister will visit the U.S. next week in order to meet with his counterpart there for discussions about a new trans-Atlantic air services agreement for the U.K. that would replace one brokered by the EU, he revealed. Under the existing ‘Open Skies’ treaty carriers such as British Airways enjoy unfettered access to the American market, with the deal also underpinning a lucrative joint venture between BA and American Airlines.

Reports that Britons living in EU nations wouldn’t be able to move to other countries in the bloc under the terms of the post-Brexit settlement currently being offered by EU negotiators shouldn’t be too concerning given the early stage of talks, Grayling said.

“What we’re going to get around the negotiations is all kinds of noises off, speculations, views expressed,” he said. “I think we’ve set out a clear position. We think it’s fair an appropriate and that’s what we’re going to be pursuing.”

The minister spoke following the launch of the consultation process on a new aviation strategy for the U.K. which he said would aim to maximize global connectivity and further expand an air transport and aerospace sector that contributes 22 billion pounds ($29 billion) to the economy each year.

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