Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary is meeting UK transport secretary Chris Grayling today to voice his concerns at Brexit’s likely impact on aviation.
Mr O’Leary, whose company flies more than 30 million British passengers a year, has warned that flights between the UK and EU could halt in 2019 if there is a hard Brexit with no deal.
The airline boss has sharply criticised the British government for not recognising the risks to the industry. The Irish airline has already warned that it may have to cancel flights to and from the UK ahead of March 2019, the scheduled date for the country to leave the bloc, if there is no certainty about an aviation deal.
Mr O’Leary argues that the UK’s exit from the EU would also force it out of the open-skies treaty, which allows airlines to fly freely throughout the bloc. This would have to be replaced with a bilateral deal between the UK and EU, and it is the lack of any sign of progress on this front that concerns Mr O’Leary, who points out that the British government has yet to “get out of the starting blocks” in the Brexit talks.
“There is a real prospect – and we have to deal with this – that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months, beyond March 2019,” he told the European Parliament transport committee recently.
Mr Grayling told an aviation-industry gathering last month that although he understood the need for a rapid deal between the UK and EU it would be some time before the British government could “deliver that certainty”.
His department insists that aviation is a priority in the Brexit talks and that the British government is pursuing open access to EU skies.
The Tory transport secretary is under pressure at home. He recently scrapped plans to electrify rail lines in Wales and the north of England while approving a costly underground commuter line for London, Crossrail 2.
His move sparked accusations that taxpayers from UK outside London were being forced to pay for Crossrail 2 at the expense of developments in their own regions.
Areas such as Wales and the north of England are held to be disadvantaged relative to London, an imbalance that the British government had pledged to address.