UK policy in the line of fire as Brexit clock ticks down

08 November 2018
Addressing the AOA annual conference, UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling insisted that the government aims for the "best possible access to European markets", despite ongoing plans for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Source: Phil Goodson/Simply Photography

Speakers at the UK Airport Operators Association (AOA) annual conference in late October attacked the government for its Brexit strategy on aviation.

“Aviation should have been the first priority for the government over Brexit,” said shadow aviation minister Karl Turner. “Crashing out with no deal” would be a “disaster for aviation in the UK”, he added.

In his keynote speech at the London event, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling noted the importance of a strong UK airports sector post-Brexit, insisting that it is simply prudent to plan for a no-deal divorce from the EU. “Of course securing the best possible access to European markets is the ultimate goal of our negotiations,” he said. “And with 164 million passengers travelling between the UK and EU last year, maintaining current agreements on air transport is clearly in the interests of everyone. But as we’ve made clear, it’s just common sense that we also plan for all possible scenarios – even if they are unlikely.”

However, airport executives are worried that the prevailing situation damages their business strategies. “We need a greater degree of certainty,” insisted AGS Airports CEO Derek Provan. He said that some UK airports are reluctant “to spend too much time” preparing for a no-deal Brexit that may not materialise.

Other airport leaders at the AOA conference outlined their plans for a no-deal Brexit. Many have formed internal working groups and are working hard behind the scenes to prepare for life after 29 March 2019. Bristol Airport, for example, is increasing its spares and equipment holdings for critical infrastructure such as baggage-handling systems, as well as ensuring labour resources are in place for complex systems operation.

A key concern is that workers will be in short supply, as many airports tend to recruit seasonal labour outside the UK.

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