The European Union has given Aer Lingus and two related airlines in Spain a six-month deadline, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in which to restructure its shareholding and thus ensure it is eligible to continue operating as a European company.
This is the result of Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling being owned by British holding company International Airlines Group (IAG).
Aer Lingus was acquired by the Willie Walsh-led IAG in 2015, having once been a State-owned airline. Iberia was previously Spain's flagship national carrier, but following its merger with British Airways in 2011 it became a subsidiary of IAG.
According to EU rules, only companies that are majority owned by EU shareholders are able to operate flights between member states. A no-deal Brexit raised the prospect of Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling being stripped of their EU flying rights.
But the European Council and EU Parliament have drawn up a provisional deal that would give the airlines six months in which to restructure their ownership in line with regulations. The countdown begins once a new EU Brexit contingency regulation is implemented.
In a statement, the council said the measure was part of a strategy that seeks “to mitigate the severe disruption to air connectivity for passengers and freight between the EU and the United Kingdom in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal”.
Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling must each present “a precise and complete plan” to comply with the new guidelines within two weeks of the contingency regulations’ introduction. Those will now be submitted for approval by member states.
The agreement follows months of uncertainty surrounding the future of the airlines. The Spanish government has lobbied on behalf of Iberia and Vueling in an effort to ensure that Brexit does not cut them adrift.
Iberia had argued that it already complied with EU ownership rules, due to a complex shareholder structure that means the majority of its voting rights are owned through Spanish department store El Corte Inglés.
Aer Lingus has previously expressed its confidence that a suitable arrangement would be arrived at to enable it to continue its operations without disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
However, because the economic rights are in the hands of IAG, the EU has deemed the airlines to be British-owned.