A global airline body has warned of chaos and confusion for millions of air travellers if Britain leaves the European Union in March without any deal between the two parties on how to manage air services.
Calling for urgent action, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) stressed the need for certainty in three critical areas: The uninterrupted continuation of air connectivity, the framework for regulating safety and security, and the policies and processes needed for efficient border management.
Iata's chief executive and director-general Alexandre de Juniac said: "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. With less than six months to go, we have little more certainty than we did in June 2016 (when Britain voted to leave the EU)."
Even in the best-case scenario, where a Brexit transition phase is agreed on, for the period after March next year, a high degree of uncertainty and risk to air services remains, he told journalists during a teleconference yesterday.
It is not just permission for aircraft to take off and land that needs to be resolved, but also other matters such as how to administer security clearances and pilot licences, the association said.
"The EU and UK have a responsibility to millions of their citizens who depend on reliable air transportation," Mr de Juniac said.
"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," he said.
This has to be one of the most important Brexit considerations, he added. "A backstop contingency plan to keep planes flying after March must be published, and quickly," Mr de Juniac said.
Whatever Brexit scenario unfolds, Iata is calling for Britain to remain in the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) at least as a "third-country member".
It also said Easa and the British Civil Aviation Authority should be allowed to initiate detailed technical discussions on the future relationship between the two bodies.
Mutual recognition of professional licences, standards for materials and parts, and other safety elements should be put in place to go into effect immediately after March, Iata stressed.
Mr de Juniac said: "We understand the complexity of the political issues at stake. But safety and security should be non-negotiable."
The situation regarding goods is even more complex, with almost no clarity on Customs arrangements, he said.
"We must have clarity on future border and Customs arrangements now if we are to plan for an orderly post-Brexit situation," he said.
Iata, which released its annual 20-year passenger traffic forecast yesterday, also expressed concerns about intensifying protectionist measures being implemented by governments.
Based on current air travel trends, global passenger traffic is expected to grow by an average of 3.5 per cent a year over the next two decades, with the number to reach 8.2 billion in 2037.
Growth prospects, however, and the economic benefits driven by aviation could be curtailed if protectionist measures are implemented by governments.
"We foresee a significant negative impact on the growth and benefits of aviation if tough and restrictive protectionist measures are implemented," Mr de Juniac said.