United States carriers have expressed their desire for the UK to hasten negotiations regarding aviation regulations so that passenger and cargo flights to Heathrow, Stansted and other airports will continue to operate smoothly post-Brexit.
Airlines for America (A4A), an aviation body whose members include United, American Airlines and FedEx, says the multibillion pound traffic in both directions will be compromised unless politicians focus on the impact Brexit will have on the aviation industry.
“The negotiations are moving slowly, we are very concerned about the timing,” said A4A’s Chief Executive, Nick Calio, who was in London to present the case in meetings with aviation minister Martin Callanan and other MPs.
Calio warned that even a day’s interruption could be disastrous, with 140 passenger flights and 43 cargo flights a day between the US and Britain.
Exports usually flown into the UK from the US on a daily basis include car parts, farm machinery, food and iPhones under the Open Skies agreement, which permits EU and US airlines flying into the European Union to operate in each other’s countries.
Heathrow slots are “gold” gateways to the rest of Europe and Stansted is a major “airbridge” for cargo – even for FedEx, whose main distribution center is in Paris.
The aviation sector’s concern is that unlike other businesses, which can lean on World Trade Organization agreements, a cliff-edge Brexit scenario would mean flights grounded as there are no historic rules to fall back on.
“We obviously view it with a sense of urgency given the amount of commerce that goes back and forth between every party involved here,” Calio said.
“We are trying to imbue a sense of urgency and educate policymakers on both sides of the UK and EU that this needs to be dealt with and can’t be subject to what would be a series of political decisions.”
He said he had projected that more headway would have been made both in the UK and in the EU to avert economic damage across Europe if flights were inadvertently grounded in the absence of a deal.
Although he is hopeful a deal could be finaliized in time, Calio is sufficiently perturbed that officials in both the UK and the EU do not understand the risks involved.
“We are very concerned that there won’t be an agreement in time,” Calio explained. “It’s apparent in our discussions that Europe wants to extract a price and some of things that are being discussed on the European side would [mean that we could] not continue flights as US citizens, UK citizens and frankly EU citizens know them today.”
His comments echo those of others in the business, including Ryanair, that the UK needed a replacement Open Skies deal by March or summer 2018 to allow airlines to contract their airport slots for 2019 around Europe and beyond.
Calio said some airlines would continue operations if there was no deal but they would be looking at provisional liabilities if customers were left in the lurch in March 2019.
Calio said the current furor over Ryanair’s flight cancellations was an illustration of what can happen when things go wrong. He said US carriers had the hard way what it was like to leave decisions in politicians’ hands when air traffic control was endangered with closure in the US in 2013 because the national budget was not agreed in a “sequestration” debacle.
“They shut the government down, they laid off the air traffic controllers and the outcry from people who couldn’t get on an airplane was so intense that they fixed it in three days. They should have done it weeks and months ahead of time, which is what we have been saying [about Brexit].”