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UK-registered airlines are fighting for a level playing field with carriers on the continent, claiming the government failed to engage with the industry before Brexit.
Cargologicair CEO Nadeem Sultan said the UK urgently needed home-based carriers providing long-haul freighter services across the globe, but they faced a series of challenges.
Without more capacity, UK exporters and importers will be disadvantaged when competing with continental businesses, as they are reliant on Europe for access to cargo capacity, which would result in increased costs associated with additional trucking and transit times.
Together with Air Tanker, Jota Aviation, Logan Air and Titan Airways, Cargologicair is pushing the Campaign to Save UK Aviation Jobs.
Supported by MP and ex-aviation minister Paul Maynard, the campaign is calling for a revision of post-Brexit aviation policy, which Jota CEO Andy Green claims “severely restricts” UK carriers while granting EU operators “almost unfettered access” to UK-centric business.
Mr Green said the central problem was a “non-objection” policy in some EU countries, which prevents foreign operators from gaining flight permits if a domestic airline objects.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) said the UK had not adopted a de-facto “non-objection” policy as the processes for considering requests to operate ad-hoc services not covered by the EU-UK Agreement differed widely between EU members.
Even so, the spokesperson said, the UK approach was comparable with “non-objection” by only issuing permissions to EU operators when there are reciprocal opportunities for UK airlines.
“The free trade agreement [FTA] we have agreed with the EU preserves operational flexibilities that are critical to the UK aviation industry,” the spokesperson told The Loadstar.
“We are actively supporting all UK airlines and leading engagement with EU member states to ensure UK airlines can operate to the EU with minimum administrative requirements.”
However, Mr Green denied that the EU-UK Brexit agreement “preserves operational flexibilities” for UK carriers, and rejected the claims surrounding non-objection processes.
“[The FTA] preserves operational flexibilities that are critical to the multinational big airlines, with multiple AOCs,” said Mr Green.
“For the UK-only AOCs, it severely restricts trade, whereas EU operators are afforded almost unfettered access to UK-centric business, and this comment [on non-objection] is entirely disingenuous; Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain all have non-objection policies.”
Furthermore, Mr Sultan and Mr Green both rejected the government claim that there was “extensive engagement” with UK airlines prior to negotiating the Brexit deal.
Having read the DfT comments, Mr Sultan said that “categorically, no content discussions happened with the DfT prior to Brexit”, noting that meetings largely focused on timelines and informed carriers that no details could be provided until the “deal was finalised”.
“And, of course, the finalising of the deal did not happen until the last week of December,” he added.
“Added to this is the fact that fifth freedom cargo rights agreed with certain EU countries was not disclosed to us, and only found out after Brexit when we raised questions on how those airlines are able to operate certain routes.”
Both Mr Sultan and Mr Green described it as “painful” to watch EU operators servicing UK routes as UK aircraft were grounded, with crew needing to be furloughed or find other jobs.
Mr Sultan added that post-Brexit policy left UK aviation in “an aquarium” granting visibility to EU operators to sensitive commercial information without reciprocal visibility for the UK, with many carriers questioning whether to “up sticks” and relocate to the EU.
Relocating, he said, would be a relatively straightforward and inexpensive process for most airlines and would allow them to service the EU and UK , but would cost UK aviation jobs.
“We are of the strong opinion that a level playing field will lead to a rapid growth of long-haul direct cargo services to and from the UK connecting it with its key trading partners,” he added.
“Simultaneously this will lead to investments at UK airports, creation of valuable UK aviation jobs whilst providing UK PLC with world class cargo connections to the world.”
Mr Maynard acknowledged that Brexit has forced many changes to the industry, but that the new agreement was “now out of kilter”, leaving UK airlines disadvantaged.
“I have been urging the DfT to try to level the playing field so as to remove some of the distortions we currently see,” he told The Loadstar.
“Cargo is often an overlooked part of our aviation network – few realise how much arrived at Heathrow as bellyhold, and few perhaps realise the extent to which many of our smaller regional airports survive [on it].
“So, it is important we do all we can to ensure UK aviation can play its part in preserving the just-in-time supply chain so many UK manufacturers rely on.”
Mr Sultan added that the UK’s aviation sector has been too focused on passengers.
“The primary UK airports have always been very much passenger-focused, from whom they generate valuable revenue streams through activities such as duty-free shopping and car parking.
“This has led to an over-reliance on Europe for access to maindeck freighter capacity, as valuable slots at airports like Heathrow have been used for passenger services.
“Successive governments have failed to address this attitude and in turn ignored very real national security needs for the UK economy and UK-based exporters and importers, especially producing large industrial machinery, vehicles and aerospace related products.”
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