Editorial: Taking us into the unknown

By Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI EUROPE

Oliver Jankovic

As this magazine goes to print, the UK is about to launch its withdrawal from the European Union (EU). This is a pivotal moment. Brexit goes from being a rather abstract debate, full of conjectures and easy political posturing – to becoming a detailed and complex negotiation, where politics finally gets confronted with legal frameworks and economic realities.

Yet, entering into these negotiations is akin to entering terra incognita. We know what we are leaving, but we still do not know exactly what we are going to get – and what we will encounter on the way. For aviation in particular, the Brexit negotiations are fraught with uncertainties and risks.

These come primarily from the 2 year deadline that frames the negotiations, and the fact that the EU will not start negotiating its new relationship with the UK until there is an agreement on its exit terms – including the UK’s financial commitments and the status of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa. As explained to us by the EU Task Force in charge of Brexit negotiations, this means that in the absence of an agreement on exit terms by March 2019, the UK would leave the EU without its new relationship with the bloc being defined. This in turn would result in aviation falling back on more restrictive bilateral provisions between the UK and each of the EU27 Member States. There is little doubt that this would be highly detrimental to connectivity and airports on both sides. This is precisely what Michel Barnier, the Chief EU negotiator for Brexit, has just warned about – speaking of “severe disruptions to air transport” amongst the most damaging consequences of a no-deal scenario “for our people and our economies”.

But even if the EU and the UK agree on exit terms, there is still plenty to worry about in relation to what the new UK-EU relationship could look like for aviation.

If carried out, the UK Government’s plan for a “clean break from the EU” (including from its Single Market for goods & services and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice) means UK aviation would no longer be part of the EU Single Aviation Market. Instead, the UK is looking at negotiating continued access to the EU Single Aviation Market – which is not quite the same, in terms of rights and opportunities.

Indeed, as a non-EU country, the UK will be put on par with other ‘third-countries’ which have negotiated similar aviation market access agreements with the EU. These include the US, Canada, Morocco, Jordan and Brazil. While the EU has promoted a liberal approach in terms of granting airlines from these countries access to the EU, it has not granted them unlimited rights to operate within the EU Single Aviation Market. The rationale for these restrictions primarily rests with the need to ensure fair competition, as well as airline ownership & control restrictions. To operate freely within the EU Single Aviation Market, airlines need to be subject to all EU aviation & competition regulations. They also need to be owned & controlled by EU nationals.

The only cases in which the EU has granted full access within its aviation market to non-EU airlines involve Iceland and Norway. But that was conditioned by both countries accepting all EU aviation & competition rules as their own. While similar arrangements could certainly be replicated with the UK, they seem incompatible with the UK Government’s agenda of “taking back control of our laws”.

All in all, the Brexit negotiations are exposing the intrinsic and inalienable link between the Single Market and the wider EU legal and political set-up. As such, they reveal the unique value of the EU for aviation. This is precisely why the European aviation sector (airlines, airports, ANSPs, the aerospace industry, business aviation and unions) stood up for the EU project on the occasion of its 60th anniversary – calling on the Heads of Government of the EU27 to protect, reform and strengthen the EU.

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