UK Prime Minister Theresa May and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Image: 10 Downing Street

The aviation industry has offered a mixed response to British prime minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal, ahead of the December 11 vote among UK parliamentary MPs on the country’s 585-page withdrawal agreement from the European Union.

Airbus has offered cautious support for the proposed Brexit deal, warning that the alternative of a “cliff-edge” no-deal alternative would be much worse for the UK. The aerospace manufacturer, which directly employs 14,000 people in the UK, previously warned that it could withdraw its investment in the country if Britain withdraws from the EU without an agreement, describing such a scenario as potentially “catastrophic.”

“If the withdrawal agreement is successful in some form or another then Airbus would consider continuing to invest as the company has done over many years,” said Katherine Bennett, senior vice-president of Airbus UK, when speaking to MPs on the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. “We have great capability, but obviously because of the uncertainty, which we want to see reversed, that is why investments have been put on hold.”

“If the withdrawal agreement is successful … then Airbus would consider continuing to invest.” – Katherine Bennett, Airbus

The non-binding 26-page declaration sets out what the UK and EU want their future relationship to look like after Brexit. It describes a 21-month transition period whereby the UK would remain tied to the EU’s single market and covers future relations with respect to trade, security and other issues, including two clauses about cooperation between the UK and EU on aviation.

It states that a comprehensive air transport deal should cover “market access and investment, aviation safety and security, air traffic management and provisions to ensure open and fair competition, including appropriate and relevant consumer-protection requirements and social standards.”

However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expressed concern about the declaration’s dearth of specifics regarding the aviation industry. Travel Weekly reported that Perry Flint, IATA’s head of Corporate Communications, said in an e-mail that the declaration lacks the detail that airlines require. “We continue to urge the prioritization of aviation issues so that airlines have the details needed to manage their business and provide connectivity in the post-Brexit period. There is a huge amount of work to do and there is no time to lose,” he said.

Meanwhile, the UK and US are close to finalizing an open skies agreement that would provide continuity for transatlantic carriers from both countries after Brexit. According to the Financial Times, the draft terms of the agreement are “inferior” to the rights that the UK enjoys as an EU member and includes stricter ownership rules requiring airlines to have “substantial ownership and effective control” by UK or US nationals.

The agreement would likely come into force after the UK leaves the EU on March 29 and before the end of the transition period, which could run to as late as December 2022. British Airways parent IAG remains sanguine over the prospect of a deal between both countries.

“All parties have a shared interest in ensuring that existing rights continue under new bilateral arrangements. This allows airlines on both sides of the Atlantic to operate existing services and seek to develop new ones,” IAG said in a statement.