Flights between the U.K. and Europe could be suspended indefinitely if Britain fails to strike a new air travel deal with the EU within its two year Brexit negotiation period, the chief marketing officer of low-cost Irish airline Ryanair has warned.
Speaking to CNBC Wednesday, Kenny Jacobs called on politicians in both Brussels and London to assert urgency and common sense in making continued air travel arrangements their "number one priority." Failure to do so, he warned, could see airlines unable to fly millions of passengers between Britain and the continent.
"There is the distinct possibility that if a deal isn't found in March 2019, when Britain leaves Europe, that there won't be flying for a certain period of time," said Jacobs.
Air travel between Britain and the continent is currently governed by Openskies, which is part of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Once outside of the EU, the U.K. will no longer be under the remit of the ECJ and will therefore need to strike a new bilateral agreement with the EU in order to continue operating flights to its member states.
"If it (a deal) happens in 2019, that's too late. We're calling for a solution in 2017 so that we continue to fly as we do," Jacobs continued.
His calls came just hours before the U.K. formally notified the EU of its intention to leave. As of Wednesday, Britain has two years to negotiate new trade deals with the economic bloc.
One option often touted as an alternative to reaching a new deal with the EU in this timeframe is to revert to World Trade Organization rules. However, these do not apply to aviation, Jacobs noted, meaning that if a new bilateral deal is not reached by March 2019, the industry will be reliant on a transition agreement allowing it to continue to operate in the interim.
"This is a divorce and it's shaping up to be an ugly and messy divorce," said Jacobs.
"On the one side the British are saying we want to talk about access to the market, (on the other) the Europeans are saying we want to talk about the settlement.
"We're saying can you both please just think about the consumers who are involved in the middle."
Jacobs' comments were followed later Wednesday by a press announcement from British low-cost airline easyJet in which it confirmed that it is close to announcing its application for an EU AOC (air operator certificate) to secure its flying rights within the EU post-Brexit.
"EasyJet will have three AOC's in the future - UK, Swiss and EU which will protect all its current network of flights," the announcement noted.
"EasyJet's headquarters will remain in Luton and easyJet plc will also remain listed on the London stock exchange."