Mar 23, 2017
UK-based airlines told to move to Europe after Brexit or lose major routes
Fears for UK jobs as EU officials say airlines will need to move base and majority of shareholders to fly routes within Europe
EU chiefs have warned airlines including easyJet and Ryanair that they will need to relocate their headquarters or sell off shares to European nationals if they want to continue flying routes within continental Europe after Brexit.
Executives at major carriers have been reminded during recent private meetings with officials that to continue to operate on routes across the continent – for instance, from Milan to Paris – they must have a significant base on EU territory and that a majority of their capital shares must be EU-owned. The development, coming days before the triggering of article 50, potentially makes it more likely that the carriers will act to restructure, with economic consequences for the UK, including a loss of jobs.
The tough line from the EU may encourage the UK to reciprocate with its own nationality rules, which would leave EU-owned airlines facing equally difficult choices, potentially dampening their investment in the UK in the short term, although some may seek in time to establish their own British subsidiaries.
The ability of companies such as easyJet to operate on routes across the EU has been a major part of their business models, and there may be a renewed willingness among airlines to invest outside the UK to maintain market share.
British Airways does not fly intra-Europe, but its parent company IAG is likely to need to disinvest shareholders in order to be majority EU-owned, and allow its other EU-registered carriers to continue to operate across Europe. An IAG spokesman said: "We will continue to comply with the relevant ownership and control regulations."
Some airlines have already started to seek alternative headquarters, and to examine how they might ensure that their shareholding is majority-EU owned, possibly through the forced disinvesting of British shareholders.
By Daniel Boffey in Brussels