Belfast Telegraph

Continuing 'open skies' deal a win-win situation, airport executives say

Detaching European aviation regulations from the wider Brexit process would be a win-win for the UK and the EU, senior airport executives have said.

Continuing the current "open skies" arrangements that allow carriers to fly anywhere within the European Union would be of economic benefit to the whole continent, a major industry conference in Belfast was told.

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, told the Routes Europe event that a precedent had been set by allowing Morocco, a non-EU nation, access to the open skies deal.

He said as the accord that created a free market for European air travel was not one of the core founding EU treaties it could theoretically be left alone, or deferred, without either the UK or EU losing face.

"One of the big strengths we have is that the Government, without compromising any position, or indeed the European countries, without compromising their position, could put aviation on the side and say 'we are not touching it, because it is not part of the EU agreements'," Mr Dewar told the final day of the three-day conference in the Waterfront Hall.

"Just saying 'we'll come to that later' might be the best thing for us and that could be ten years later, so we could actually run as we are without challenging any of the article 50 (process) or any of the legal structures at all, simply because it is not an EU (core) agreement to start with."

Bernard Lavelle, sales director at London City Airport, told the event that aviation was a vital "enabler of trade".

"Without aviation the whole of European trade is going to be affected," he said. "This is why I am quite passionate about recognising that this is a European issue and together we should be looking to try to continue some form of open skies element to aviation."

He said it was rare for airports and airlines to speak with such unanimity on one issue.

"Almost uniquely airlines and airports are looking for the same thing, which is the continuation of today's open skies," he said.

Mr Lavelle said he believed officials in the UK appreciated the significance of resolving the challenges Brexit presented to the aviation industry.

He urged counterparts at European airports and airlines to lobby their respective governments to ensure the EU also made it a priority.

"The industry needs Europe to come to play in this game, not just the UK," he said.

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