UK airlines urgently want answers from the UK government about the potential challenges the industry could face post Brexit, the chief executive of one of Europe’s largest regional airlines has said in Belfast.
Christine Ourmières-Widener said the UK aviation sector has been forced to adopt a holding position as it waits to see if there will be a soft or hard Brexit landing, against the backdrop of fresh warnings from the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, that in the event of a no-deal scenario British planes may not be able to land on the European continent.
The French chief executive of Exeter-headquartered Flybe, which operates flights from Belfast, Dublin and Cork, said airlines need clarity to plan for the future as Brexit could create significant financial and operational challenges.
“The difficulty with Brexit is that we are really working with different assumptions – we need more certainty, it is very difficult for us. We are a highly regulated industry but if something changes then we need to be able to adapt – there is a long list of issues that could be impacted from cost structures to flying rights.
“We are all in the same situation in the aviation industry – it will mean challenges for everyone and at Flybe we are prepared for those challenges, but what we would ask now of the UK Government is to provide more certainty and more answers to what the future may look like,” Ms Ourmierès-Widener said.
Flybe has been operating from George Best Belfast City Airport for the past 35 years. The airline’s chief executive said its Northern Ireland hub is one of its top four UK bases and currently operates 295 flights per week to 15 destinations across the UK using a core fleet of Bombardier Q400 aircraft.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future post Brexit Ms Ourmierès-Widener believes that Northern Ireland is “definitely an area for growth”.
“We are in discussions with Belfast City Airport,” she confirmed while also indicating that there could be further opportunities for the British airline to explore in both Cork and Dublin.
Ms Ourmierès-Widener was previously chief executive of the Dublin headquartered airline Cityjet for four and a half years.
She did not directly comment on whether Flybe might consider investing in a new base in Dublin post-Brexit but she said there were a range of options that the airline would examine depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
In the meantime Ms Ourmierès-Widener is committed to leading the British airline through a three-year sustainable business plan and is strongly pushing a new initiative ‘FlyShe’ which she has launched in a bid to challenge the “gender imbalance in the aviation industry”.
She is currently the only female CEO of a UK airline and is one of only two women on the board of the aviation industry’s governing body, the International Air Transport Association.
Speaking in Belfast on Tuesday she said was frustrated that there are not more women in the industry in 2018.
“Aviation is still a male-dominated industry. We need to change it and find solutions to do that. There are talent shortages and it is all about education.
“Businesses need to reflect society and their customers and we need to encourage more girls and young women to become engineers and pilots,” Ms Ourmierès-Widener said.
She said research suggests that nearly one in five girls believe there are jobs they cannot do.
“I firmly believe that young girls and women cannot be what they cannot see,” the chief executive of Flybe said.