If the UK fails to establish traffic rights for airlines before it leaves the European Union (EU), it would be “a disaster,” the head of IATA said Tuesday.

While IATA and the aviation industry is hopeful that government negotiators will reach an agreement in time to avoid airline service disruption, news this week that broader Brexit talks were stalled is causing concern.

IATA, which is not involved in the Brexit negotiations, is urging that airline traffic rights are established as soon as possible, by October 2018 at latest. The UK is scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019 and airlines set their schedules and sell tickets at least six months ahead of operation.

As part of the EU, the UK currently benefits from liberalized traffic rights within Europe and also from the EU-US Open Skies agreement.

If the UK exits the EU without securing new traffic rights, it would have to revert to the pre-liberalized air bilateral system, including for flights to Ireland, which is an EU country.

“The worst case would be that connectivity is not maintained between the UK and EU due to the disappearance of traffic rights. Traffic rights are a key issue,” IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said at a media briefing in Geneva Dec. 5.

“It would be a disaster for UK-based carriers because they would not be allowed to land in Europe. I don’t think it will happen, but it is a risk.”

De Juniac said “urgent action” was needed to negotiate the provision of connectivity post-Brexit. “As a general rule, the business of freedom is at its best in creating value for the world in a liberalized framework. That’s a message that I intend to push quite strongly in the year ahead,” he said.

The EU’s Open Skies framework is credited with stimulating Europe’s air traffic growth, especially in the LCC sector.

IATA regional VP, Europe, Rafael Schvartzman ,said resolving the UK’s post-Brexit aviation situation would be “difficult, but feasible”.

“We hope a solution is found for the UK air service arrangements post March 2019, enabling air traffic between the UK and EU to continue,” Schvartzman said. European passengers would be “the biggest losers” if that fails to happen, he warned.

Karen Walker  karen.walker@informa.com