‘No-deal’ Brexit would cause havoc at European airports

Umbrella group says services would be ‘highly degraded’ all over continent

A "no-deal" Brexit would cause havoc in airports all over Europe, costing hundreds of millions of euro, compromising security, and leading to a "highly degraded" service, the umbrella group for European airports has said.

In a leaked letter to Pascal Leardini, who is leading a special unit in the European Commission readying for a no-deal scenario, Airports Council International (ACI) director general Olivier Jankovec called on the commission to "urgently" develop contingencies for the UK crashing out of the bloc without a withdrawl agreement in March.

The ACI represents more than 500 airports in 45 European states. Its members facilitate more than 90 per cent of commercial air traffic in Europe, and generated €675 billion, or 4.1 per cent, of Europe’s GDP in 2016.

“Given that a no-deal scenario remains a serious possibility, I would like to reiterate our call for the EU 27 and the UK to develop and agree on adequate contingencies for aviation,” said Mr Jankovec.


“In particular, I would like to focus on the issue of security checks at EU 27 airports and the need for the EU 27 to ensure that as of March 30th, 2019, the UK can be included in the list of countries with whom the EU 27/EEA and Switzerland ensures a ‘one stop security’ regime.”

EU regulations set out common basic standards for aviation security in the EU, which are designed to prevent “acts of unlawful interference with civil aircraft that jeopardise the security of civil aviation”.

One stop security means a passenger travelling from a UK airport to an EU airport before transferring to another flight to a third airport does not need to undergo security checks at the transfer airport.

As a result, EU airports “have based their business model on accommodating the free and seamless flow of passengers to the great advantage of those passengers”, Mr Jankovec said.

Mr Jankovec highlighted that millions of passengers leaving the UK undergo transfers at EU airports, including Schiphol in Amsterdam where the number is 2.5 million per year; Frankfurt where it is 1.4 million; and Madrid/Barcelona where it is more than 1 million.

Forcing these passengers to undergo security checks at these airports would entail “negative consequences” such as the need to purchase additional security equipment, build new checkpoints, and recruit more staff.

This, Mr Jankovec said, would entail “significant costs” for airlines, airports, and “ultimately passengers”. Furthermore, the recruitment and training of security personnel, he warned, takes six to nine months.

Airports would need to change passenger flows, which could require “significant and expensive” terminal infrastructure modifications. Mr Jankovec estimated this would cost as much as €100 million at Schiphol and take three years to complete.

“In the meantime, the airport would need to use transfer buses for all UK originating flights, resulting in significant operational deficiencies (including costs), and highly degraded quality of service with spillover effects beyond UK originating flights,” he said.

Schiphol’s fleet would have to more than double to cope with the increased number of buses, which the airport’s layout and roadways are “not designed to accommodate”. This would lead to “major disruption and a heightened safety risk” airside.

In addition, passengers coming from the UK would have less layover times, which would result in a “negative impact” on commercial revenues at airports, and increase the odds of missed connections, which would, in turn, result in “additional costs” for airlines.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter