LONDON (Reuters) - Airlines are still seeking answers from Britain as to future flying rights, with less than a year to go until they start selling tickets in a post-Brexit world, industry executives said on Thursday.
British and EU negotiators hit a dead-end over money in four days of talks, the European Union’s Michel Barnier said on Thursday as he ruled out discussions on future trade being launched by EU leaders next week.
Britain will leave the European Union in March 2019, and while it has highlighted aviation as a sector which needs to be prioritized in Brexit talks, the slow progress of talks raises the prospect of airlines having to put tickets on sale without a guarantee of an agreement that will allow flights to happen.
“Airlines sell tickets 300 days out, so they are about 6-8 months away from needing some certainty,” Michael Whitaker, principal of Whitaker Airspace and former deputy administrator at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, told the CAPA Global Summit in London.
Flying rights to, from and within the European Union, plus between the United States and Britain are currently covered by EU-wide Open Skies agreements.
For the aviation sector, there is no default “fallback” option in the event of a “no deal”, unlike with trade, where Britain would revert to WTO rules.
On Wednesday, British Chancellor Philip Hammond said it was “theoretically conceivable” that in a no-deal scenario air traffic between Britain and the European Union could be grounded.
One option could be to return to the old bilateral agreements that used to govern air traffic rights between Britain and other countries, but those often date back to the 1940s and 1950s and are very restrictive.
Christine Ourmières-Widener, CEO of British regional airline Flybe (FLYB.L), said the airline planned to release its schedules with the regular 12-18 months’ notice. Flybe has prepared for various risks but needs answers from the government, she said.
“We can deal with any scenario but the question is which scenario we will have to use depending on the decision,” she told Reuters.
Craig Kreeger, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, expects a bilateral deal between Britain and the United States, the most crucial aspect for the transatlantic carrier, will be agreed before Britain leaves the EU.
“Sanguine might be a teeny bit strong, but I‘m still generally confident that from a Virgin Atlantic perspective, things will be OK,” Kreeger told Reuters.
Reporting by Alistair Smout and Victoria Bryan; Editing by Adrian Croft