Once the UK finalises its divorce from the European Union, it will not be a part of the common market. Unless new aviation agreements are signed, it will no longer be possible to freely fly to the UK, nor will British air carriers be able to land at EU airports.
Both the UK and EU member states will have to go back in time as it were, to re-negotiate bilateral air transportation deals.
The outcome of such negotiations will have special significance for the national carrier Finnair and its passengers, as London is one of Finnish residents' favourite European travel destinations.
Moreover, flights from Finland to New York very often transit via London, and Finnair operates many flights to the British capital.
Challenge to London as major hub
Last week, EU member states meeting in Brussels added the subject of aviation as a line item to their Brexit talks.
According to diplomatic sources, a Finnish negotiating group was able to introduce an addition to the proposal calling for the preservation of “a strong level playing field” in the negotiations. In other words, the group wanted to ensure that the talks would not only consider flights between the UK and existing EU countries, but would also take into consideration flight connections beyond the EU.
The UK is likely to remain an EU member for only one more year and Brexit talks are only generally understood to be at the mid-point.
According to Professor Jorma Mäntynen of the consulting firm WSP Finland, London is such an important air transportation hub, that other EU countries also have an interest in brokering a comprehensive post-Brexit aviation rights deal.
On the other hand, other cities such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam could see Brexit as an opportunity to strengthen their own positions as a transit hub.
“The EU is now considering what to bring to the negotiations. The discussions could raise other interests apart from air traffic itself,” Mäntynen said.
Finnair hoping passengers will win
Brexit will also see the UK crash out of its Open Skies agreement with the United States, meaning it will also have to re-negotiate a new bilateral air traffic deal across the Atlantic.
Mäntynen stressed that in addition to EU internal market agreements, countries have many other bilateral air traffic treaties with other states. Finland also has dozens of such deals with countries from New Zealand to the United Arab Emirates and Mauritius.
Finnair would not comment on the ongoing Brexit talks because they are not yet final. A representative of the airline’s communications team did say they are hoping for an outcome that would be favourable for all airline passengers.
“It would be good if passengers from Finland would still be able to travel to North America using London as a transit point,” the airline added.
Swapping airline alliances?
Finnair is also a member of the One World Alliance, which includes EU airlines such as British Airways and the Spanish carrier Iberia. The Finnish national airline was even one of the founding members when the alliance was launched in 1999.
One World is smaller than two other major airline groupings, Star Alliance and SkyTeam, both of which also have other EU airlines as members.
Although Finnair operates direct flights to North America with its own fleet, passengers from Finland also fly to the continent via London, Madrid and Dublin with One World partners.
WSP Finland’s Mäntynen said it would not be unheard of for Finnair to drop out of one alliance to join another.
However signing up with a new partner alliance would not be a slam dunk for Finnair, given that each group has its own customer loyalty programmes, synchronised flight schedules and uniform ticketing systems.