Brexit Proof Q&A: ‘For us, the Border is a potentially huge issue’
Dervla McKay, chief executive of Aircoach
Dervla McKay: “We hope that a deal between all sides lands sensibly for all businesses in Ireland.”
Dervla McKay is the chief executive of private bus and coach operator Aircoach. The business, a subsidiary of First Group, provides all car park and shuttle bus services at Dublin Airport in addition to its services to and from Dublin city centre and Dublin Airport, including a route to Belfast. The company carried over two million passengers last year.
McKay joined the company in May 2018 having started with First Group in 2005 as a graduate trainee. Prior to the move to Aircoach, she worked in operational and management roles with First Group.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
I was with First Group Plc and I was actually living in the UK at the time on the south coast of England. I suppose I was a bit shocked like most people. The decision to move home wasn’t a Brexit issue, though.
How is your business likely to be affected?
Two ways. Firstly, we have a cross-Border service – we serve from Belfast to Dublin. For us, the Border is a potentially huge issue. From our point of view, we certainly wouldn’t want a hard border because that would slow the service down and that would have potential customer impacts and cost impacts because we’d have to add services.
We’ve been consulting with the relevant agencies and I suppose, from the discussions we’ve had, we get the impression that there wouldn’t be any additional checks on public transport.
Then there’s licensing issues. Will the driver licences be recognised both sides of the Border? If there had been a no-deal, those licences would no longer have been recognised.
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?
We properly started thinking about it a year ago and, realistically, the planning in earnest started around then. Aside from the licensing issues, we’ve been speaking to some of our major parts suppliers, based in the UK, in relation to the availability of stock. We were having those conversations about six months ago.
Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?
Locally, within Aircoach, that’s not something we’re particularly looking at in terms of Brexit. We’ve a good number of suppliers in Ireland and the potential issue is parts availability and, if there isn’t going to be a trade deal, what duties will be applied and that could have a potential cash flow issue.
Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
It’ll partly depend on what happens in the pound versus the euro. We rely heavily on tourism and if, all of a sudden, people in the UK start doing staycations that would have an impact.
When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?
I would say we’re Brexit ready.
What’s your best/worst case scenario?
Our best case is that there’s a trade deal so we don’t have any implications on parts and in some ways tourism remains buoyant and that we can continue to attract new talent. And particularly where the Dublin to Belfast route is concerned that our customers aren’t affected.
Our worst case is the opposite of what I just said. There isn’t a trade deal, the UK tourists don’t come to Dublin and that there’s a hard border.
Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?
We haven’t been but one of our parts suppliers has.
How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU help ease the pain of Brexit for your company or sector?
I think by keeping the communications up so we can be as confident as possible in our planning. And, we hope that a deal between all sides lands sensibly for all businesses in Ireland.
Looking out five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
In five years time, the new runway will be operational at Dublin airport which, in theory, will only be a good thing for us. The short to medium term forecast for UK tourism is quite negative but in the medium term, hopefully that might change.