Easyjet may apply for Irish licence to ensure EU access

British airline makes contingency plans ahead of Brexit

British budget carrier Easyjet is understood to be considering applying for an Irish airline licence to ensure full access to EU countries following Brexit.

The airline’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, said on Tuesday that Easyjet is likely to apply for an air operator’s certificate (AOC) – an airline licence – in “another EU country” next year so it will be able to fly freely in the bloc after the UK’s departure from the bloc.

The Republic is believed to be one of the countries where the airline has considered applying for a licence and it is understood to have had some contact with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), the regulator to which it would have to apply for an AOC.

It has also been suggested that the British airline is considering applying to the Dutch authorities. Cyprus is considered another candidate on the basis that its founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, is from there.

Applying for an Irish AOC would make sense for Easyjet. The IAA already has experience overseeing airlines with bases in multiple European countries as it regulates Ryanair, the continent's biggest carrier, and Norwegian Air International, to which it issued a licence in 2014.

Top four regulators

The IAA has been consistently ranked amongst the world’s top four regulators by the

International Civil Aviation Organisation

, the UN body which sets commercial airline safety standards.

Alongside that, the Republic is the EU’s only other English-speaking country and both jurisdictions have a similar legal systems.

While Ms McCall said that Easyjet would apply to another EU member state next year, and could base some aircraft there, she stressed that the company's headquarters would remain in Luton Airport in the south of England.

Her remarks came just a day after the British government's Brexit minister, David Davis, said following a meeting with the industry that access to EU markets for UK carriers was a priority for the Westminster administration.

Easyjet attended that meeting at London City Airport along with Ryanair and Aer Lingus's parent, International Airlines Group.

The aviation and travel industries generally called for a remain vote in the run up to June’s Brexit referendum.

Protect its business

Ryanair, which flies more than 35 million British passengers a year, said recently that, depending on what shape Brexit ultimately takes, it may consider applying for a UK AOC, to protect its business in that jurisdiction.

The UK’s proposed departure from the EU throws a question mark over its participation in Open Skies, the regime that allows an airline registered in one member state to operate freely throughout the trading bloc.

This treaty allowed both Ryanair and Easyjet to expand beyond their home countries and fly throughout the EU.

Easyjet reported that pretax profits for the 12 months ended September 30th fell almost 28 per cent to £495 million sterling on a weak pound and falling air fares.

Exchange rate movements cost the airline £88 million as sterling’s fall against the dollar pushed up its fuel bill.

Terror attacks, air-traffic control strikes in Europe and higher holiday expenses for British customers cost it £150 million.

Ms McCall described its performance in the face of various challenges as “extraordinary”.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas