It is still too early to say what the EU-UK aviation market will look like after Brexit, a senior European Commission aviation official has acknowledged.
For the time being, because the UK remains in the EU, all international negotiations undertaken by the bloc include the interests of the UK, says Henrik Hololei, director general of mobility and transport at the European Commission.
Asked about the topic of the EU-UK aviation market after Brexit, he had this to say: "This question is easy to ask, but difficult to reply to. The honest answer is I don't know."
Hololei spoke to FlightGlobal in Singapore, where on 11 October the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) opened a regional office, its fourth in the world.
He notes that there are two distinct stages to Brexit. The first will be negotiating the UK's exit from the EU. Negotiations around the UK's new relationship will follow. A so-called "hard Brexit" – in which the UK would withdraw from the single market – would likely have "significant negative impacts on aviation relations", warns Hololei.
"If the exit conditions are agreed, what is the future relationship? It depends on what the UK wants. It is not us who are leaving our aviation market, it is the UK who is leaving. In the ideal world of course we'd like to see this relationship continuing unchanged, but it's simply not possible."
One possible model he holds up is for the UK to become a member of the European Economic Area, like Iceland and Norway.
Hololei adds that third countries with whom negotiations are under way for aviation liberalisation have not raised the issue of Brexit. Apparently they don't feel the uncertainty around the UK's status in Europe is a reason to delay negotiations.
Still, Brexit will eventually have an impact.
"It is absolutely clear that these agreements will not apply to the United Kingdom outside the EU," says Hololei.
"This has to be stipulated at the time these agreements are concluded, initialled, and eventually signed. But today the UK is a member of the EU. We negotiate also on behalf of the United Kingdom, and there is no way we also be able to treat that in a separate manner."