UK flights to Europe could be grounded on March 29, 2019, according to the Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission Henrik Hololei, who warned that the clock is ticking on getting an aviation agreement access agreement hammered out between London and Brussels before Britain officially leaves the European Union in May of next year. .
In addition to leaving the EU, the UK is quitting the 1997 “Open Skies” deregulation agreement between European nations that allows any technically qualified airline in the European Union – in addition to Norway and Iceland – to run services inside any other country. The move turned low-cost carriers such as UK-registered EasyJet and Ireland’s Ryanair into consolidated aviation behemoths that have taken up market shares from traditional full-service national carriers.
British Airways CEO Willie Walsh warned that grounding flights would cause a logistics nightmare for the EU, as well as the UK. Walsh said he is confident, however, that the UK and US would soon reach a new air traffic agreement, but cautioned that the protectionist policies of US President Donald J. Trump would most likely mean that any deal would be far less mutually beneficial for European carriers.
The original Open Skies agreement was designed to replicate a similar landmark deregulation initiative first introduced in the United States two decades before. Air fares in the US quickly fell by a third after deregulation came into effect in 1978 and air traffic more than doubled through the 1980s as new low-cost carriers offered cheap flights to destinations that avoided the big carriers’ connection hubs.
The knock-on effect in both Europe and the US has been hit-and-miss. The vast majority of low-cost carriers that appeared after 1978 and 1997 have either folded or filed for bankruptcy, while icons of the industry – including PanAm, TWA, Olympic Airways, and SwissAir – no longer exist.