The boss of Ryanair will emphasise the urgency of reaching a post-Brexit “open skies” deal between the UK and Europe on Wednesday when he holds private talks with Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary.
Sky News has learnt that Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, will meet Mr Grayling in London amid growing warnings from the aviation industry about the lack of tangible progress towards a new agreement.
The meeting will take place against a backdrop of vocal warnings from Mr O’Leary that flights between the UK and European Union could grind to a halt if no deal has been struck by the time of Brexit in March 2019.
“There is a real prospect, and we need to deal with this, that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019,” he told the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee last month.
“There is not going to be an interim agreement… we will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”
The urgency of the situation is heightened for the airline industry because of the need for industry and regulators to finalise flight timetables many months in advance.
Privately, aviation executives are furious at what they see as a “wasted year” since the EU referendum, with the blame attributed by them solely to the UK Government.
Mr Grayling told an industry gathering last month that while he understood the desire for a rapid deal between the UK and the EU, it would be “some time yet before we can deliver that certainty”.
The need to pave the way for continued operations after Brexit has prompted the UK-based easyJet to apply to Austria for an Air Operator’s Certificate, which would enable it to establish a new airline in the country.
In a statement issued to Sky News, a spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “Aviation is absolutely crucial to the UK’s economy and we are committed to getting the right deal for Britain.
“Our aviation industry is the largest in Europe, and both we and the EU benefit from the connectivity it provides.
“That’s why we are pursuing liberal access to European aviation markets – including all the benefits that brings for consumers.”
He declined to comment on the talks between Mr Grayling and Mr O’Leary, while Ryanair failed to return calls seeking comment.
One source said that the agenda for the meeting was “a regular catch-up” and would not only cover Brexit-related matters.