Higher air fares, less choice and possibly even a return to 1970s air charter days to get around flight restrictions: a leading UK airline boss has told The Independent what could await British travellers if the present “open skies” arrangements end after Brexit.
Andrew Swaffield, chief executive of Monarch, said: “Fares will gradually go up and there will be less competition.” He said the remarkable choice and low fares currently available to British travellers are due to European liberalisation.
The EU and some nearby countries comprise the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), which is based on “mutual market access to the air transport market”.
Any airline from one of the member states is entitled to establish operations anywhere in Europe, and to fly between any two ECAA airports.
“|t’s easy to forget the benefits, and what facilitated those benefits,” said Mr Swaffield.
“They don’t happen by accident. What we should focus on is how to protect as much of that as we can, and that means either replicating the ECAA or replacing it with something that’s almost as good.
“But if you were a betting man you’d have to say it was unlikely, at least in the short term.”
Mr Swaffield was speaking at the ABTA Travel Law Seminar in London.
At the same event, Philip Torbol, Partner of the Brussels law firm K&L Gates, said: “It is difficult to be in the European Common Aviation Area without being in the Single Market - you take the whole package or you don’t.
“I regularly sit in aviation negotiations. If the EU becomes unreasonable as a block, some countries will go alone. Potentially countries could negotiate their own agreements with the UK.”
Airlines from the UK and Ireland are dominant in Europe, and it remains to be seen whether the 27 remaining members of the EU will allow this state of affairs to continue after Brexit.
The Monarch boss said: “When people are scaremongering about ‘Flights might not take off’, I disagree with that. We would find a way.”
As recently as 1999, easyJet circumvented restrictive aviation rules between Geneva and Barcelona by setting up a company called easyJet Tours. To meet the obligation to provide accommodation, the firm pitched a tent on a hillside in north-east Spain, 60 miles from Barcelona.
Mr Swaffield speculated that airlines might once again have to come up with creative solutions to keep flying.
“Companies like Monarch, Thomson, Thomas Cook and so on found ways to get people abroad to the holiday destinations that they want to get to. I think we would do that again. It would be a step backwards, but it’s better than nothing.”
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