Chris Grayling says the world of aviation will be prioritised in Brexit negotiations

Rebecca Smith
easyJet relies on intra-European flights for 40 per cent of its revenues
easyJet relies on intra-European flights for 40 per cent of its revenues (Source: Getty)

Airlines were among the first to battle Brexit turbulence and transport secretary Chris Grayling has now pledged the aviation industry will be prioritised in Brexit negotiations.

Speaking at the Airport Operators Association’s annual conference, Grayling said: "I can give that assurance."

The industry remains uncertain over its standing in Europe and elsewhere in the world going forward, while the current expectation is that European leaders will force a "hard Brexit" to deter other nations following suit.

Grayling said: “I think the prospects for UK airports are extremely bright; in fact I think they’re actually brighter as a result of the exit vote.”

Read more: The airline industry wants reassurance over Brexit negotiations

He also said Britain held a strong hand in the matter. “Other countries want to do business with us; they want to do business with British airlines and airports too," he said. "That’s not going to change when leave the European Union.”

Where the transport secretary did note a concern was for carriers like low-cost airline easyJet. It holds an operating licence in the UK, but relies on intra-European flights for 40 per cent of its revenues.

"The issue we have to address is the Open Skies arrangement within the EU where you have airlines like easyJet flying from Luton to Alicante to Germany to Italy back to Alicante then Luton in the same day,” Grayling added.

“That’s something I regard as being important for the future, but we tend to look at things in terms of our access to the European market; these are essential routes to regional economies around the European Union and the loss of a flight because an airline no longer has a right to fly could have a seriously detrimental effect on a regional economy.”

Read more: Government will prioritise market access for airlines post-Brexit

But Olivier Jankovec, the director general of Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, said he’d heard a different tune coming from Brussels. He sees a weaker UK position in Brussels that could also undermine the EU’s liberal aviation strategy. “EU states will listen politely to what the UK has to say,” he said, but added that the UK will no longer be a driver in setting the agenda.

Jankovec said it was “wishful thinking” that aviation will be dealt with separately within negotiations and currently it's just not known if the UK will have access to the Single Market.

“I wish we could single out aviation and resolve it before everything else is resolved in terms of Brexit,” he said. “But what I’m hearing in Brussels is that at the moment, things don’t look like they’re going to go that way.”

He noted that the European Commission is “understandably not very talkative” at the moment – sticking to its stance of no negotiation before notification, but what Jankovec is hearing at the moment is that Brexit discussions will tackle a range of sectors within a package.

He also had a warning on Grayling’s bullish words on Open Skies arrangements, saying it was “very doubtful” that UK airlines will be able to fly freely across Europe post-Brexit, which would expose carriers such as easyJet, which won’t have “the same freedom they have today”.

Related articles