12 MARCH 2018


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COMMENT: The PR dream

You have to hand it to Brexit. It’s a PR person’s dream. Mere mention of the word by your client practically guarantees headlines to follow. The debate boiled over again this week with Ryanair’s Michael O’ Leary threatening to ground his entire fleet for two days, apparently to demonstrate the consequences of what he sees as the unsound decision by Britain’s voters to leave the EU. Almost simultaneously from the US came dire warnings of a bleak future for air services between here and there when Britain leaves the EU-US open skies treaty.

Unpredictability being one of O’Leary’s stocks-in-trade, it would be an unwise person to predict the outcome of the Ryanair boss's threat, but don’t hold your breath for a sudden lack of aircraft. And talks of a UK-US rift were rapidly countered by those possibly more in the know than the detractors.

The week also produced other more measured accounts of the Brexit talks, chief among them comments from aviation minister Baroness Sugg that the discussions involving air services were in fact “going well”. Who would have thought it? Her remarks followed confirmation from Theresa May that on another front and contrary to rumour (misinformation?), Britain’s future involvement with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was indeed “on the table” at the negotiations.

Such developments were welcomed by the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and the UK Airport Operators Association (AOA) in a joint statement demonstrating in itself by being issued in Brussels and London that we are after all still friends with Europe.

The statement noted the new draft EU guidelines for the post-Brexit relationship confirmed that specific air transport and air safety agreements would be needed to safeguard air connectivity between the UK and the EU. This, it added, was “a welcome step – as it charts the way forward for the future aviation relationship and thus potentially reduces uncertainty for our sector”.

The two organisations urged negotiators to put the passenger at the heart of a future deal “to ensure they continue to benefit from the excellent air connectivity (that already exists), “whether they live and work in the EU, or in the UK”.

Similarly, on the speculation about UK – US air services following Brexit, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the association that represents UK-registered carriers, said: "UK airlines fully expect that the UK and US governments will sign an open and liberal agreement – including on ownership and control – that will allow UK carriers to continue to serve the US.”

He went on: "Separately, airlines will continue to support ministers in reaching a deal with the EU that is in everyone’s interest – providing for open competition between carriers and as liberal ownership and control rules as possible.

“We also want to see an agreement on the implementation phase agreed as early as possible … it is essential that clarity can be provided to both consumers and airlines through to at least December 2020.”

It’s all a bit less heated and hysterical than some of last week’s headlines would have had their readers believe.

And whatever side you are in in the Brexit debate, that can only be a good thing.

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