A top Ryanair executive has warned Brexit could ground flights and cancel holidays unless an ‘open skies’ deal is struck with the European Union.
Neil Sorohan, the budget airline’s chief financial officer, said the UK could become a “no-fly zone” if there is no certainty about the legal basis of flights between the UK and the EU by autumn next year.
Ryanair sounded the alarm bell on Britain’s tumultuous divorce as Tory ministers scramble to strike an aviation deal before March 2019.
The Open Skies agreement allows all EU airlines to fly in and out of any country signed up to the pact.
But it is linked to freedom of movement – one of Theresa May’s “red lines” in the Brexit talks.
Mr Sorahan warned that the chances of the UK remaining in the agreement appear “narrower by the day”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, he said: “Unfortunately, if we go back to the World Trade Organisation rules, there is nothing that covers such flights between the EU and the UK.
“So barring having a bilateral agreement in place there won’t be flights for a period of time and that’s why we’re very much trying to get everybody onside so that we can get everybody around the table and get this negotiated.
“If a bilateral is not agreed by the autumn of 2018, the likelihood of it being ratified through the various parliaments around Europe and in the UK by March 2019 is very slim.
“If the UK government and the EU, and this is presuming we’re looking at a hard Brexit and they don’t decide to stay in open skies, which would be the ideal situation for everyone, where nothing would change.
“But let’s assume it is a hard Brexit, then we need a bilateral negotiation between the UK and the EU27.”
The low-cost airline said it may be forced to cancel flights and move some of its UK-based aircraft to Continental Europe from April 2019 if there is no certainty about the legal basis of flights between the UK and the EU by autumn next year.
He went on: “Ryanair will clearly work in the best interests of our shareholders and customers to ensure we capitalise on all opportunities that are in the market.
“We’re working hard with the various interest groups in Europe and in the UK to try and get people to start moving this along at a pace that makes sense because the clock is ticking down.”
Ryanair campaigned strongly for a Remain vote in the EU referendum .