When the UK voted to leave the European Union in a 23 June referendum, predictions for the country's airlines and airports were not good.

Three months on, however, many in the industry are reporting that they have not seen the expected negative consequences. That was a theme of conversations at World Routes 2016 in Chengdu, in particular.

Initial wobbles in share prices have been reversed to an extent. Profits are holding up, albeit amid a tough yield environment and boosted by cheap fuel. Inbound traffic is looking good as people take advantage of the weaker British pound, which dropped significantly in the wake of the vote.

UK airports such as Manchester have sustained impressive growth figures, with some, including Birmingham, investing in infrastructure.

And the initial warnings of question marks over routes and frequencies from airlines such as United, Delta and Ryanair have failed to gather much momentum. Those routes that have been dropped have been victims of the weak pound as much as anything else – a symptom of the post-vote uncertainty rather than necessarily an inherent outcome of the decision.

But the UK's airlines and airports would do well to remember that Brexit hasn't happened yet. Uncertainty still abounds. EasyJet, for one, certainly seems mindful of the risks: after the vote, it quickly disclosed its intent to gain a European air operator's certificate, and there have lately been reports that the low-cost carrier could take a stake in German airline TUIfly.

When the UK minister in charge of Brexit, David Davis, stood in the House of Commons to make a statement on the government's strategy on 6 September, he offered little substance on how the country will implement the wishes of the 52% of the electorate who voted to leave.

Prime minister Theresa May's comment that "Brexit means Brexit" remains mostly meaningless, but also as close as anyone in government has come to outlining a strategy.

The continuing fight between those advocating a "hard Brexit" – involving a departure from Europe's single market – and a "soft Brexit" – where the UK stays much closer to the EU – reflects how poorly prepared the country was for the outcome of the referendum. Deciding to leave was the easy bit.

Some say the UK is intentionally strengthening its position for negotiations by keeping detailed plans under wraps. The problem with this argument is that scores of trading partners have already made it clear they won't talk about new trade agreements until the UK has actually left the union.

The UK may have its cards close to its chest, but no one is that bothered about seeing its hand yet anyway.

And the myriad uncertainties that existed for the airline and airport industry on the morning of 24 June still exist today.

That list includes UK and EU citizens' rights to free movement between the two and how that might affect traffic; regulatory changes necessary should the UK exit Europe's open-skies agreement; economic impacts on traffic and availability of financing once Brexit is triggered and beyond; how inward investment might change, particularly if there is a hard Brexit; and whether big businesses will move away from the UK as Japan, among others, has suggested they might.

Looking at the wider picture, indications of economic slowdown globally mean the triggering of Article 50 – the official two-year notice period of the UK's exit – is likely to happen in an already unsteady environment.

That could be exacerbated by other factors, including the threat of an early general election in a fractious political environment. Divisions in the Labour Party have already left the ruling Conservative Party free to operate largely without the checks and balances a strong opposition would provide – hardly ideal during a critical period in the country's history.

There also remains a chance that the UK's commitment to Brexit could be tested again through an election or even another referendum on the terms of departure.

Elsewhere, key EU countries face potential internal upheaval and distractions themselves. Germany and France both have important elections in 2017, with the genuine possibility of changes in leadership in both cases, which could further complicate Brexit negotiations.

And Germany in particular has been hardening its stance against the UK's expectations, including the belief in some quarters that free trade might be possible alongside a curtailment of freedom of movement.

All of this doesn't mean Brexit is going to be an unmitigated disaster for UK airlines and airports. But it does mean that no one should be popping Champagne – or English sparkling wine – corks just yet.

The argument that "things aren't as bad as we thought they'd be" is hardly a ringing endorsement of a decision that didn't even need to be made. And it is way too early to be making that judgement anyway.

Source: Cirium Dashboard