Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has admitted that talks on post-Brexit flights between the UK and EU have not even started yet.
With five months to go until Brexit and amid heightened fears of no deal, Grayling has told airport bosses that negotiations on route access for UK-EU flights have yet to get underway.
The minister insisted flights will not be grounded once Britain leaves the bloc, but added the “process is not in our hands”.
The single market for aviation, created in the 1990s, means there are no commercial restrictions for airlines flying within the EU.
The continuation of flights between the UK and the EU after Brexit will require either a fresh deal with the European Commission or bilateral agreements with individual countries.
There is no way that flights will stop
The UK aviation industry and Government has called for the liberal market to continue after Brexit.
We will start formal talks as soon as they are willing to start formal talks. As I sit here today, they haven’t been.Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
Speaking at the Airport Operators Association conference in central London, Grayling said: “I have had plenty of talks with both the Commission and other transport ministers.
“We will start formal talks as soon as they are willing to start formal talks. As I sit here today, they haven’t been.
“But I haven’t met one single person either in the Commission or a member state who believes there will be an interruption to aviation.”
Grayling noted that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who has repeatedly claimed flights could be grounded, is “selling tickets for next summer and expanding the number of routes between the UK and the European Union”.
He went on: “There is no way that flights will stop between the UK and the EU after March.”
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, told the event his Brexit preparations include getting ready for the “worst case scenario”.
He warned that the lack of uncertainty “doesn’t really help the planning process” which he described as expensive and time consuming.
Grayling faced down intense pressure to resign as transport secretary earlier this year when a failure to plan for a timetable shake-up saw hundreds of trains delayed or cancelled.
On Brexit planning, Grayling told cabinet colleagues last week that contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit would include chartering ships to deliver urgent supplies through routes other than Dover-Calais.