Britain’s departure from the EU could lead to the disruption of flights in and out of the country, Transport Minister Chris Grayling has admitted.
But he said if that did happen it would be the EU’s fault for failing to commence talks on a deal to keep planes flying.
Grayling insisted that disruption was unlikely but told an aviation conference last week that no discussions on any post-Brexit flight agreement were under way.
He had previously said it was “inconceivable” flights would be halted or disrupted, but changed his stance at the Airport Operators Association conference in London.
The UK is due to leave the EU in five months and if no aviation deal is secured by then, the status of flights between the EU and UK is not clear.
Grayling said it was “theoretically possible” but unlikely that UK-registered planes could be delayed or blocked from entering the EU by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
He said he was hoping for an outline aviation agreement with the whole of the EU, but that if not the UK would rely on agreements with individual states.
Grayling told delegates: “I’ve offered the commission to prepare a barebones deal if there is no broader agreement.
“They are not yet ready to begin but the commission has said very clearly it expects there to be an agreement.”
He dismissed claims by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary that flights will be grounded if Britain leaves the EU with no bilateral aviation deal.
But managers at British airports are worried by the lack of progress on a flights agreement and the prospect of a hard Brexit.
Ed Anderson, chairman of the Airport Operators Association, said passengers needed the confidence to book flights for next summer.
“We are concerned at the lack of progress in this aspect of the Brexit negotiations,” he said.
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns Southampton, Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, said Government had to ensure there would be no disruption.
He added that they were devoting ‘a lot of time and money’ to prepare for all post-Brexit outcomes.
East Midlands airport handles large quantities of freight and managing director Karen Smart said Brexit could cause long motorway queues due to checks on lorries.
She said: “My biggest risk is an Operation Stack on the M1 because vehicles can’t get to the airport because the processes have been slowed down.”