The UK could lose its air links with EU countries after Brexit becomes a reality in 2019 if aviation isn’t made a priority in negotiations on the terms of the schism, Ryanair has warned.

In splitting from the EU, Britain could lose even the most basic flying rights and won’t be able to simply revert to bilateral treaties, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said yesterday as Theresa May’s government prepared to trigger the legal exit mechanism.

“If you don’t see a solution by March 2019 there’s the distinct possibility that for a number of months there may be no flying between the UK and Europe until a new deal is put together,” Mr Jacobs said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “That’s the extreme situation, but this is unprecedented.”

Britain and the EU need to make air travel “priority number one in the negotiations” and ideally develop a plan guaranteeing the continuity of flights this year to avoid the worst disruption, Mr Jacobs said.

With carriers already planning timetables for 2018, the current uncertainty means capacity is likely to shrink on some European routes next spring, he added. Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary was an outspoken opponent of Brexit in the run-up to last June’s vote.

Discount rival EasyJet said, separately, that its minimum requirement is a “straightforward bilateral aviation agreement” allowing UK airlines to fly into the EU and vice versa.

Both sides stand to lose out, Mr Jacobs said, with 150 million of the 200 million people entering and leaving the UK each year being Europeans, and 80% of vacationing Britons choosing Europe for their foreign holidays.

Mr Jacobs called for an end to the divisiveness of the Brexit debate in which “everybody here is talking about access to the market, and in Europe people are saying pay us the £50bn first” — a reference to the approximate sum the EU is seeking to cover prior British commitments to the bloc.

“In the past nine months we’ve seen a lot of the politicians here just talking to each other, and we’ve seen a lot of hostility and sabre-rattling from Brussels as Europe feels like the aggrieved side in this divorce,” Mr Jacobs said.

Ryanair draws about 40% of its customers from Britain. Europe’s largest discount carrier would also need to source a UK air operating certificate to continue offering domestic services in the country.

“If we need to get one and we want to continue to operate those routes we think that will be straightforward,” Mr Jacobs said.

Bloomberg

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