At an aviation summit in Brussels, Europe’s main airlines put on a display of unity over the challenges ahead. But the industry’s chief executive officers were divided when it came to the biggest issue of all: Brexit.
The U.K.’s scheduled departure from the European Union in March 2019 has provoked widely varying reactions from carriers in the 28-nation bloc. At one extreme are dire flight-cancellation warnings by Ryanair Holdings Plc CEO Michael O’Leary and at the other is nonchalance by his counterpart at British Airways owner IAG SA, fellow Irishman Willie Walsh.
The airline industry differs from others such as energy and chemicals where, from London to Lisbon, companies uniformly say that the U.K.’s departure is a major headache. The dissonance suggests some carriers sense the possibility of a Brexit accord that would prevent hassles for tens of millions air travelers while ushering Britain, home of Europe’s busiest airport, out of the European single aviation market.
“It’s about jockeying for position in the market and potentially gaining an advantage over competitors as the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU is worked out,” said Michael Tscherny, who advises companies on European policies including aviation at GPlus Europe in Brussels. “On the basic question of whether flights will stop the day after Brexit, nobody has an interest in planes not flying between the U.K. and the rest of Europe.”