IAG chief executive Willie Walsh has dismissed the possibility that the airline group could be broken up if up if a ‘hard’ Brexit occurs due to the complexities of its ownership structure.
Speaking during the Airport Operators Association;s annual conference in London today, Walsh refuted comments made previously by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary that IAG’s ownership structure could be incompatible with European ownership and control rules once the UK leaves the European Union.
“I think he’s wrong. I don’t think he understands the structure we’ve put in place,” Walsh says. : “We have already had to deal with these issues when we created IAG back in 2011 and we put structures in place to ensure that we were able to comply with ownership and control regulations and those ownership and control regulations have been tested and have been proven to be robust."
Walsh gave the example of IAG’s wholly-owned subsidiary OpenSkies which is a French company with a French AOC. "If there’s any concern about the parent of Open Skies we can transfer the ownership of Open Skies to another part of IAG that will demonstrate European ownership," he says.
Separately, Walsh says he is unconcerned about the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA and the impact this could have on access to the US market. “I think if you listen to what Donald Trump has said he’s talked about investment in infrastructure including airports,” he observes, noting you cannot do that in a “closed market”.
He adds Brexit could present the UK with the opportunity to develop a “simpler, vanilla” open skies agreement with the USA, without the need for the “complexity” embodied in the EU-US open skies agreement.