Aviation Brexit – what happens on October 31st – if it happens at all


Legally there can’t be a no-deal UK exit from the EU on the 31st October. Under the Benn Act passed by Parliament in September the Prime Minister must ask for an extension on October 19th if there is no deal. The Prime Minister insists there will be no delay, but told a court that he would obey the law so suggesting there will be an extension, if the EU agrees, which they will if there’s to be an election in the UK or a second referendum. That is, if the UK Prime Minister doesn’t persuade one of the EU states like Hungary to veto the extension, to force an exit on October 31st. That would create a constitutional crisis like the UK has never seen.

In aviation terms there are non-binding agreements between the EU and the UK to allow flights and services and to continue uninterrupted for 6 months to a year, but there are certain things that rapidly become a problem.

A summary of outcomes:

US-UK flights will continue – thats all been agreed and signed. The same applies to Switzerland, Iceland, Canada and a few others. Most others will simply continue anyway under verbal/traditional bilateral agreements until they’re replaced with formal ones. Once the UK leaves the EU it technically has no bilateral rights with any country outside of the EU because they all terminated in 1997 with EU Open Skies.

The EU will allow all flights to and from the UK, and the UK will reciprocate. What they won’t allow is UK owned airlines flying EU to EU flights (and technically the UK won’t allow non-UK owned airlines to fly UK domestic routes). That’s why easyJet has re-registered its pilots licences and aircraft in Vienna and established a European owned legal entity. Indeed its likely to end up moving its headquarters to Vienna eventually, operating its UK arm as a minor subsidiary.

Pilots licences will not be valid after 12 months in the EU and vice-versa. Cabin crew licences and medical certification will not be recognised after 6 months.

The real problems that start to make things complicated are the longer term effects. The UK leaves EASA, and when it does maintenance and design certifications for aircraft will cease to be valid unless granted before 31st October. The UK technically stops recognising EU certificates too.

This will have a big impact unless an agreement is reached relatively quickly to mutually recognise each sides certifications. UK aircraft maintenance is a big business and neither side wants to see it impacted, but as of now there is no process or discussion on what happens next. The EU won’t talk because it doesn’t know what type of Brexit is going to happen – who does?

One good thing is that the EU will continue to accept UK airport screening and security processes for passengers and baggage. It will for a year, accept the same for air cargo, but after that a new agreement will be needed.

As far as passports and travel go, there seems to be no differences at the moment, but eventually the EU will introduce a US-style ESTA for all third party countries not requiring a visa to enter the EU. UK Passports will remain valid to their expiry date, but expect longer immigration lines into the EU and more intense inspections, as UK citizens will be classed in effect as being no different to those from Japan or the US.