The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on the governments of the UK and the EU to develop contingency plans for airlines to continue operating in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The UK government issued its own warning in September that said transport services between the UK and EU might face disruption if Britain leaves the union without a deal in place. At the time, the public was warned airlines could lose “the automatic right” to continue flights unless they have individual permission to operate in the airspace of each union.

However, the government said it was in the interest of both the UK and the EU to ensure at least a “bare bones” agreement was in place to ensure flights could continue to operate.

Now IATA is asking for greater clarification on plans to allow for the uninterrupted continuation of flights, a framework for regulating safety and security in the air transport industry, and the policies and processes needed for “efficient border management”.

Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of IATA, said: “These are the most critical areas because there are no fallback agreements such as the WTO framework available in a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario. Without any contingency planning being made transparent to the industry, the risks of not addressing these issues could mean chaos for travellers and interrupted supply chains.”

The call to action comes after IATA commissioned research into the effects of a no-deal Brexit that showed there could be ‘significant disruption’ in the event of a hard exit from the EU.

One of the main points of concern raised by the study is what will happen to the UK’s membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). IATA says the safety and security framework for connectivity between the UK and EU is ‘complex and comprehensive’ and that there can be ‘no compromise’ on keeping passengers and cargo safe.

De Juniac continued: “It is ridiculous that formal discussions on the future relationship between the EASA and the UK Civil Aviation Authority have been forbidden. This is aviation safety we are talking about – the number one priority for everyone connected with air transport and the top responsibility for governments. We understand the complexity of the political issues at stake. But safety and security should be non-negotiable.”

Another key issue highlighted in the research is the fact that EU citizens may be added to “already over-long queues at UK passport control”, although IATA says an alternative could be creating a third lane for EU passport holders. In either scenario, the association warns that governments need to invest in recruitment and staff training to ensure the borders are ready for the change.

A solution for border control has been a snagging point in Brexit negotiations, with prime minister Theresa May saying she is unwilling to create a border that ‘cuts off’ Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

De Juniac commented: “Interference with the movement of people and goods will have a major and immediate knock-on impact to economic activity in both the UK and the EU. Solutions to minimise disruption are of paramount importance. We must have clarity on future border and customs arrangements now, if we are to plan for an orderly post-Brexit situation.”

He concluded: “The EU and UK have a responsibility to millions of their citizens who depend on reliable air transportation. The goal should be a comprehensive air services agreement that does not step backwards from the connectivity existing today. But with the possibility of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit still on the table this late in the game, it is now essential that the EU and UK civil aviation authorities plan for contingency arrangements to maintain a minimum level of connectivity, which is vital for people and for business. This has to be one of the most important Brexit considerations. A backstop contingency plan to keep planes flying after March must be published, and quickly.”

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