UK-Ireland flights will be grounded without post-Brexit deal

Irish Aviation Authority confirms that UK and EU carriers will lose connectivity in hard Brexit


Flights between the UK and the rest of the European Union will be grounded by a hard Brexit unless a separate deal to cover aviation is struck with London , the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has warned.

The declaration by the IAA follows criticism in Britain yesterday of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after he warned that British aircraft would lose rights to Irish air space.

Under the Chicago Convention, aircraft from signatory countries have right to overfly another signatory country’s airpspace, and this will continue after a no-deal Brexit.


However, flights between the UK and the remaining 27 EU member states will be grounded the event of a hard Brexit unless a side deal covering aviation is struck.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday that the Government was stepping up preparations for a disorderly Brexit, and warned “planes would not fly” in the event no withdrawal agreement is struck.

In that event, a spokesman for the IAA said: “There would need to be a new agreement in place to maintain the existing level of connectivity between Europe and the UK.”

Asked to clarify whether this would mean another agreement would be needed for UK flights to land in the Republic and other EU states, the spokesman said: “Regarding EU/UK flights, yes, another agreement or the reinstatement of old bi-lateral agreements would need to be in place if a hard Brexit occurs, to provide for connectivity between Europe and the UK.”

The spokesman pointed out that "there is no World Trade Organisation (WTO) fallback position for aviation traffic rights in the event of a hard Brexit", and said this had been conveyed to the Government and the European Commission.

This position was backed up by the European Commission, which said EU rules in the field of air transport will no longer apply to the UK after Brexit, which would have “consequences in the different areas of air transport”.

Among them, it said, carriers of EU member states “will no longer enjoy traffic rights to or from the territory of the United Kingdom”.

Asked to clarify whether this would mean that Irish airlines would not be permitted to land in the UK, the IAA spokesman said: “Yes - in effect, as in the absence of no new agreement being reached between the EU and the UK that provides for air access, then there would be an interregnum in the period post March 29th, 2019.”

The European Commission said that in order to keep an EU operating licence certain conditions must be met. “The conditions include, among others, the need to have one’s principal place of business within an EU member state,” it said.

The airline must also be “majority owned and effectively controlled” by EU member states. “If the conditions are no longer fulfilled as a consequence of the United Kingdom becoming a third country, the operating licence at issue will no longer be valid,” it said.

“Air carriers of the United Kingdom will no longer enjoy traffic rights under any air transport agreement to which the union is a party, be it to or from the territory of the United Kingdom, be it to or from the territory of any of the EU member states.”

It is for these reasons that low cost carrier easyJet has established a headquarters in Austria. Other British carriers include Flybe, Jet2, Virgin Atlantic, and Aer Lingus' sister airline British Airways.

A spokeswoman for the Dublin Airport Authority pointed out that 10 million passengers travel between the airport and the UK annually, making it a third of its annual passenger numbers.

She said a hard Brexit could have a significant impact on passenger traffic as well as UK tourism into the Republic in general, given the potential for traffic restrictions in a future EU-UK aviation agreement.

She added that due to the lack of “fall-back” rules for the industry it was key that “a post-Brexit EU-UK aviation agreement will continue to support a liberal aviation market”.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter