Generation Brexit


The aim of the Generation Brexit blog is give voice to British and European millennials in the Brexit debate.

We invite all LSE undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as students from our partner universities, to contribute to the blog with reference to one of the challenges on the platform.

We welcome blog posts that draw on your ongoing subject of study and/or research, but also those that tackle other issues, such as employment prospects, immigration status, and funding that may be affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, as well as visions for the future UK/EU relationship.

Submissions, in a Word or Word-readable document and stating your name, course, and year of study should be sent to


The Sky is the limit: Brexit has the potential to disrupt European air travel

Posted by Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz (Admin) Jun 17, 2018

In 2016 alone, 150 million people flew from the UK to another EU member state. No other European country is the origin to so many intra-EU flights. However, these numbers could drastically decrease after March 2019; Brexit has the potential to disrupt European air travel as airlines could lose landing rights and the UK might leave the EU’s single aviation market, as well as the bloc’s flight safety agency. Sarah Gerwens writes that Brexit has already begun to slow down the growth of European airlines’ revenues and has led to rising tensions among British airline officials

The EU aviation industry is part of the single market - the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) - and is overseen by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Within the ECAA, airlines can depart and land in any of the member states without having to obtain special permits. This includes flights that leave from and land in countries other than the airline’s headquarters. Especially low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet profit from offering such flights between major tourist attractions outside of their own country of origin.

Non-EU airlines, meanwhile, are barred from offering intra-EU trips. Apart from American carriers, who are governed by the EU-US `Open Skies’ agreement, only those with headquarters within a member state and that are EU majority-owned can operate intra-EU flights. These rules are unlikely to change after Brexit. Consequently, once the British owners of UK airlines are no longer EU citizens and airlines’ headquarters are suddenly outside of the EU, their intra-Union operating licenses could be revoked. The British low-cost carrier EasyJet already responded to such concerns last year and created EasyJet Europe with headquarters in Vienna.

The issue is further complicated by an entirely different disagreement: the contested status of Gibraltar and, particularly, the isthmus its airport is on. Spain claims that the airport lies on British land. However, the UK is unlikely to cede Gibraltar or parts of it to the Spanish government. While not at the forefront of the debate so far, this disagreement will most likely further complicate negotiations in the future.

What’s Next? Three Potential Scenarios for Post-Brexit European Air Travel

While one can imagine a myriad of ways for the Brexit negotiations to conclude, three scenarios are most relevant for the aviation industry – as well as most likely overall: come March 2019, the UK might exit the bloc without any new arrangement in place, it might manage to draw up bilateral agreements with the Union, or it might remain in the existing EU regulatory agencies and bodies, including the ECAA.

The ‘no deal’ option is arguably the least desirable and the United Kingdom, as well as the member states have little to gain from failing to reach an agreement. The air travel industry would be particularly hard hit. Without any new arrangements in place, flights of British airlines, from as well as to Britain, would be solely governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization rules (similar to reverting back to WTO oversight regarding trade). This means that any and all preferential access to the EU market would be lost for British airlines. Furthermore, EU, as well as UK operators, would have to obtain new licenses to land and depart within each other’s jurisdictions. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has repeatedly warned about such a scenario and even threatened that flights will be grounded for a period after March 2019 if there is no new agreement. However, not only trips from and to the EU would be affected: since aviation deals with third countries are brokered by the EU as a whole rather than individual member states, the UK would have to renegotiate all the agreements it was previously part of. Following a 2002 ECJ ruling stating that member states are banned from concluding their own bilateral aviation agreements, the country will unable to do so until it leaves the bloc.

The `no deal’ scenario remains possible but unlikely, given these potentially destructive consequences. More likely, the UK and the EU will agree upon a bilateral arrangement, similar to the EU-US Open Skies framework and Swiss aviation relations with the EU. However, this will entail less access to the common market. Most notably for Brexiteers, a bilateral aviation deal would also include continued oversight of the ECJ over British matters - something many Leave voters were keen to escape.

The last and least disruptive option is the de facto maintenance of the status quo. The UK would remain a member of the ECAA and could even re-join EU agreements such as the Open Skies framework. Currently, Norway and Iceland have such arrangements with the Union. However, this scenario hardly provides the separation and independence from EU bodies and regulation that Brexiteers desire. If the UK decides to remain in the EU single market, however, this option would be the default, since the intra-EU market liberalization automatically extends to the aviation sector.

Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport – but that might change after Brexit. (Picture: Warren Rohner, Flickr, CC)

The British Sky is the Limit?

Which one of the three options outlined above is the most likely is difficult to forecast. Which one is the most desirable for British air carriers is easier to determine: remaining within the ECAA and maintaining preferential access to the EU market would best safeguard their (European) business interests, with intra-European trips making up the large...ean air traffic. Furthermore, unclear conditions in a `no deal’ future would significantly hamper airlines’ ability to plan and offer flights – an issue for an industry that often sells tickets 12 months in advance. On the contrary, for EU-based airlines, no deal or a bilateral aviation agreement could entail some competitive benefits. If British low-cost airlines such as EasyJet are no longer able to operate intra-EU flights, Union-based companies could take over. However, a major disruption of European air travel is in the interest of neither party. While Brexit imposes new limits on European trade and travel, the sky should not become one of them.

This post represents the views of the author(s) and not those of the Generation Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Sarah Gerwens is an MSc candidate in Global Europe: Culture and Conflict at the LSE’s European Institute.

This post was edited on Jun 18, 2018 by Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz

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