The UK government on Friday released a long-awaited document spelling out its ambitions for air transport with the EU after it leaves the bloc at the end of March next year. Its proposal for market access envisions the continuation of current arrangements for UK and EU licensed air carriers to operate services to, from, and “wholly within the territory of the UK and the EU on an equal basis,” including maintenance of seventh and ninth freedom rights – respectively, the right to fly between two foreign countries while not offering flights to one’s own country; and the right to fly within a foreign country without continuing to one’s own country.
In other words, the British government seeks to continue participation in the single aviation market after it exits the EU.
The proposal most likely will not sit well with a number of established EU carriers and their home countries, who will argue one can’t decide to leave the EU and expect the same rights afforded to EU members. A position paper of Airline Coordination Platform-members Lufthansa Group, Air France-KLM, SAS and TAP Portugal calls for basic third and fourth freedom traffic rights – the right to fly from one’s home country to a foreign state and to fly from a foreign state back to one’s home country – post Brexit. Additional traffic rights, the lobby group asserted in the paper, should depend on the extent of regulatory alignment, including on passenger rights, slots, fair competition, and the participation in the EU emissions trading scheme for airlines, as well as the recognition by the UK of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The latter, however, represents a red line for the government of UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
The UK parliament’s European Union Committee on Friday published its latest report on UK-EU relations post-Brexit, concluding that the UK and EU have approached the negotiations with too great a focus on “red lines,” which, said the report, increases the risk that they won’t reach an agreement on the future relationship. Aviation is one of the topics on which the two parties clearly disagree, it noted, calling on negotiators to acknowledge the need for compromises.
Airlines with extensive intra-EU traffic such as Ireland’s Ryanair and Hungarian LCC Wizz Air have already established a UK AOC that would allow them to operate British-registered aircraft under third or fourth freedom rights. London-based easyJet created an Austrian airline to secure its intra-EU route rights post-Brexit.
Last year 164 million passengers traveled by air between the UK and the EU. Some 185 airports in the EU offer at least a weekly UK service, according to the UK government’s framework proposal.
The UK and the US expect to agree on terms of an open skies in the coming weeks, though formal signing of the accord cannot happen as long as the UK belongs to the EU.