British Airways CEO Willie Walsh Picture: REUTERS/CLODAGH KILCOYNE
British Airways CEO Willie Walsh Picture: REUTERS/CLODAGH KILCOYNE

Brussels — Airlines will be able to withstand the impact of Britain leaving the EU, even without a deal, but the lack of political progress is frustrating and has dampened consumer demand, airline chiefs say.

Britain is due to leave the  EU on March 29, and Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to seal a deal that has the approval of MPs in Westminster.

“I don’t think it’s concern that we’ve expressed. It’s frustration. We do really need the politicians to resolve this,” Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways and Iberia parent IAG, said at the Airline for Europe summit in Brussels.

“The industry manages these uncertainties better than any other industry ... I’m fairly confident that IAG and other airlines will be able to manage this situation whatever happens.”

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said even if a deal is passed, it would only clinch a transition arrangement until the end of 2020, with further political instability delayed but not resolved.

“A deal is good news in the short term but fixes nothing over the medium term because they are still going to have to negotiate the trade deal. And what the UK government has demonstrated in the last two years is that it is incapable of negotiating the purchase of a packet of crisps,” he said.

“So, short term, I think the threat of a cliff edge is moving away but it is only going to be postponed for another 21 months and we are back to the same situation all over again.”

Britain and the EU have said flights would continue, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The EU has proposed a provisional arrangement to mitigate the  consequences of a no-deal Brexit for airlines, including an extra six months to meet rules requiring airlines flying within the single market to be majority-owned by shareholders from its countries.

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said on the sidelines of the summit that those moves were reassuring the companies that they could operate, even if ongoing uncertainty was not good for consumers.

“The uncertainty that exists around Brexit and the impact that this has on the customer is not helpful, is not good,” he said. “Even in the event of a no-deal, we are prepared, because we know there will be a deal on aviation.”