Neil Pakey says it is essential the UK and EU strike a fresh ‘open skies’ agreement before the Brexit deadline next year otherwise carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet could be left in limbo. Tony McDonough reports
Routes between Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) and destinations within the EU could be grounded after Britain formally leaves the EU, the airport’s former CEO has warned.
Neil Pakey, who was also formerly an air transport negotiator for the European Commission and is now the chairman of the UK Regional and Business Airports’ Group (RABA), wants to highlight the severe economic damage to UK regions if the UK and EU does not strike an ‘open skies’ agreement before the Brexit deadline next year.
EU-based airlines that fly from LJLA, such as Ryanair and Wizz Air have applied for UK operating licences for after March 2019 and UK-based easyJet has applied for an EU equivalent.
However, Mr Pakey, who was at LJLA for more than a decade until 2010, says these alone will not be enough to ensure the planes keep flying between the UK and the EU in the event of a hard Brexit.
If no Brexit deal is reached, then trade between the two can continue under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules – but WTO rules do not apply to aviation.
In the event of no Brexit deal then the UK would have to negotiate 27 bi-lateral agreements separately with each of the 27 EU destinations it currently has air routes with, plus a further 17 agreements replacing those between the EU and other countries, an undertaking Mr Pakey describes as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.
He points out that such is the complexity of these kind of aviation agreements that process of negotiation would have to begin now. There are dozens of routes operating out of LJLA to EU destinations and that is replicated across Britain’s regional airports:
“This isn’t scaremongering,” said Mr Pakey. “It’s simply what a hard Brexit would mean for aviation and for connectivity, as aviation has no world trade agreement to fall back on.
“For EU airlines such as Ryanair and Wizz, applying for UK operating licences may be damage limitation as they could then be considered as UK airlines, but the Government then still has to negotiate with up to 44 different countries and sometimes those across the table can be slow.
“People forget how hard our regional airports lobbied for a single aviation market in the first place as the best way to connect our regions to their equivalents and major cities in Europe.
“The idea that Liverpool could secure a Romanian airline, such as Blue Air to now operate a European-wide network from Liverpool would have been impossible to conceive without the single market.
“It is essential that a hard Brexit be avoided in relation to aviation so we can retain the network that the current John Lennon Airport team have built up.
“We live in hope that the single aviation market will continue for the UK, much in the way it does between the EU and Norway, as this is the best way to safeguard existing UK connections.
“The EU member states equally have tourists and business travellers who need access to UK regions. We just need both sides to see sense, starting now.”