Brexit and aviation: Open Pandora’s box and anything can happen

The 23-Jun-2016 UK vote in favour of British exit from the EU came as an enormous shock to observers, despite strong warnings from pollsters. The first implication is for an unwelcome period of uncertainty. But, as with any major shock of this sort, the immediate warnings of disaster and market collapse normally dissipate as thinking adjusts. Having passed the political silliness of leaving such a major and complex decision effectively to chance, the bureaucrats will now begin to pick up the pieces and work around the complexities.

There are numerous potential implications for the aviation sector – the most serious being that the withdrawal of the UK from EU decision making will allow the protectionist forces in Germany and France to become more influential in formulating EU policy directions. Otherwise, many of the potentials can probably be worked around, over time. Meanwhile, uncertainty remains the order of the day, while the lengthy unravelling occurs.

For consumers, the single aviation market and the US-EU Multilateral open skies agreement are the most immediate issues. For European services, the likely outcome is for the UK to negotiate single market access, as Norway and others have, through the ECAA, despite not being EU members. This would broadly maintain the status quo from a consumer perspective and the UK’s airlines would retain full market access. Ironically though, they would have to comply with associated EU regulations, despite having no say in their formulation – the opposite of Brexit’s supposed objective in giving the UK greater independence. And the North Atlantic agreement has become so important, for liberals and protectionists alike, that a UK disappearance is most unlikely.