EU Settles On Post-Brexit Traffic Rights for UK Airlines

 - March 20, 2019, 9:36 AM

(Updated March 22 to include information on Brexit deadline delay)

All European Union institutions have now adopted the two legislative acts that will arrange market access for UK airlines and regulate the validity and/or recognition of the EASA certificates and licenses held by UK organizations in case of a no-deal Brexit scenario. The European Parliament formally adopted the new rules at its March 13—14 plenary session in Strasbourg. The Council of the EU, which represents the member countries' governments, followed suit on Tuesday. UK aviation minister Liz Sugg promptly issued a statement, stressing that the measures adopted by the EU “will ensure that flights can continue in any scenario, deal or no deal.” That is, she added, “good news, not only for the industry, but most importantly it reaffirms the fact that passengers can book flights with confidence, as normal.”

Meanwhile, the terms and the timing of the UK’s exit from the EU, initially scheduled for March 29, remain unclear. UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday sent a letter to the EU requesting an extension of up to three months, to June 30. EU leaders agreed to delay Brexit until May 22 if May can finally persuade lawmakers in Parliament to accept her plan for leaving the bloc after two previous failures. If she fails, the delay will last only until April 12. 

The European Commission in December released its legislative proposal to ensure what it calls basic connectivity between the UK and the EU27 for a transitional period and to prevent disruption, or a shutdown of air services, but both the EP and the Council put forward amendments to ease several restrictions on UK carriers included in the proposed regulation.

The adopted legislative act gives UK airlines the right to overfly the EU and to operate third- and fourth-freedom flights between any point in the UK and any point in the EU27. The act includes no restriction on capacity or gauge, but UK airlines may not operate intra-EU flights. All UK cargo carriers get fifth-freedom rights beyond the EU, though only for a five-month period, and their capacity gets capped at this year’s level. UK airlines that currently provide scheduled air services on routes subject to public service obligations in the EU27 may continue to operate them for a maximum of seven months. The legislation also allows for code sharing between UK and EU27 airlines, and UK airlines may provide wet-leasing operations.

As regards to ownership and control, the new rules will give airlines holding an operating license issued by an EU member state but not meeting EU ownership and control requirements six months to fully meet all those requirements. EU law requires EU interests to majority own—50 percent plus one share—and effectivity control its airlines. Air carriers will have two weeks from the entry into force of the regulation to submit a precise and complete plan presenting the measures intended to achieve full compliance with the ownership and control requirements.  

The measures foreseen in the European regulation are temporary in nature and do require reciprocity from the UK side. Earlier this month, the UK government released the technical details of the measures it plans to take to ensure flights will continue if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.