The UK and the European Union must take urgent action to plan for the continuation of air services in the event of a "no deal" Brexit, according to IATA.
"A backstop contingency plan to keep planes flying after March must be published, and quickly," says IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac on 25 October, referring to the UK’s likely end-March departure from the bloc.
Even in the "best-case scenario", where a Brexit transition phase is agreed for the period after March 2019, "a high degree of uncertainty" and "risk" to air services remains, IATA says.
"The EU and UK have a responsibility to millions of their citizens who depend on reliable air transportation," states de Juniac. "The goal should be a comprehensive air services agreement that does not step backwards from the connectivity existing today."
Regarding a no-deal scenario, IATA cites the uninterrupted continuation of air connectivity, the safety and security regulatory framework, and the policies and processes needed for efficient border management as three key areas where it says insufficient steps have been taken.
"These are the most critical areas because there are no fallback agreements such as the WTO framework available in a 'no-deal' Brexit scenario," suggests de Juniac.
He continues: "Without any contingency planning being made transparent to the industry, the risks of not addressing these issues could mean chaos for travellers and interrupted supply chains. With less than six months to go, we have little more certainty than we did in June 2016."
Regarding the lack of clarity on the UK’s relationship with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) under any Brexit scenario, de Juniac describes as "ridiculous" the fact that formal discussions have been forbidden during negotiations.
"This is aviation safety we are talking about – the number one priority for everyone connected with air transport and the top responsibility for governments," he states.
IATA meanwhile suggests that both parties should work towards a deal where the status quo is maintained regarding airport security measures.
The association also urges the UK and the EU to agree a deal that does not restrict freedom of movement and goods, citing the complexity of the latter issue in particular thanks to a lack of clarity on future customs arrangements.
"Interference with the movement of people and goods will have a major and immediate knock-on impact to economic activity in both the UK and the EU," de Juniac says. "Solutions to minimise disruption are of paramount importance. We must have clarity on future border and customs arrangements now, if we are to plan for an orderly post-Brexit situation."
Among Europe's airline chiefs, Ryanair's Michael O'Leary has been particularly vocal on the potential negative impacts of Brexit, in March describing the UK's decision to leave the EU as "the stupidest idea known to humankind – the first time in history people have voted to get poorer or be less well off", and warning on the potential for it to impact air connectivity.
Also speaking in March, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways and Iberia parent IAG, took a more optimistic view on Brexit. "I'm a firm believer that this will get resolved" he stated. "There’s no better industry at dealing with disruption than ours, [and] there's not a lot that needs to be sorted out."