UK airports and ‘hard Brexit’ – Stansted and Liverpool most exposed, RABA Chairman comments.

In a recent report into which of the UK’s main airports could suffer the largest impact to their networks if the UK were to lose its access to the European Single Aviation Market, the airports currently at risk of losing the most traffic were found to be those with a heavy reliance on non-UK owned LCCs such as Ryanair or Wizz Air. This would put airports like London Stansted, Liverpool, East Midlands and London Luton in the firing line, since they have the highest dependence on EU services as a proportion of their total capacity, with significant seat numbers operated by non-UK based LCCs. Stansted and Liverpool also have among the highest proportion of domestic seats served by non-UK airlines.

Other UK airports outside of the top 20 tend to be very reliant on one, or sometimes two operators. Their potential exposure to the worst-case Brexit scenario will therefore depend on whether those carriers rely on seventh and/or ninth freedom rights to provide their services. At Exeter for example, Flybe is the dominant carrier and this contributes to the airport seeing no seventh or ninth freedom services in the week under analysis. In contrast, the schedules at Glasgow Prestwick and Bournemouth are dominated by Ryanair, leaving those facilities far more exposed. All of Prestwick’s seats were flown on seventh freedom services operated by Ryanair, while the Irish carrier also accounted for 74% of Bournemouth’s departing seats to EU destinations.

Neil Pakey, Chairman of the Regional and Business Airports Group (RABA) says, “The UK was at the forefront when the EU’s Single Aviation Market was created, and we managed to convince some instinctively protectionist countries to follow this lead. Many UK regions have not looked back since,”

“When we hear the term ‘hard Brexit’, we know in the aviation context this could lead to one current agreement being replaced in effect by 44 agreements, including an estimated 17 we agreed with other nations as part of the EU. Countries like Ireland, Netherlands and Spain would happily subscribe to continued open skies, but others may see it as an opportunity to protect their national carriers from competition, reducing access to and from their own regional airports, resulting once again in higher air fares. Picking up old bilateral agreements and dusting them down may be a starting point, but most are much more restrictive.

“Many UK regional airports, depend on seventh freedom and ninth freedom traffic,” continues Pakey. “If we don’t manage to stay in the Single Aviation Market, we will be reliant on the bilateral negotiations between the UK and the other member states to deliver these. That is difficult enough at the best of times, without trying to deliver 44 agreements all at once. We encourage all airlines operating to UK regions to communicate with the UK Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] to consider obtaining a UK Air Operator Certificate [AOC] in case of a ‘hard Brexit’ and at least then they will be considered as a third and fourth freedom carrier, which will help. We also support the Department of Transport in its efforts to prepare the ground and hope that we somehow avoid the ‘hard Brexit – no EU agreement’ scenario for aviation.”

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