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Ryanair threatens to ground flights over Brexit

Ryanair’s CEO threatens to ground flights in an anti-Brexit tirade, but then the CMO says this won’t happen.

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has threatened to ground his airline’s planes post-Brexit to make the UK “rethink” leaving the EU.

The airline’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, then held a press conference to walk back that threat, saying Ryanair was unlikely to ground flights in the run up to Brexit but warned that leaving the EU could hit the UK’s long-haul market.

Speaking in Brussels to an aviation sector audience, O’Leary said the British public had to realise they were “no longer going to have cheap holidays” after leaving the EU.

“I think it’s in our interests – not for a long period of time – that the aircraft are grounded,” he said. “It’s only when you get to that stage where you’re going to persuade the average British voter that you were lied to in the entire Brexit debate.

He took the opportunity to warn once again that a “real crisis” would happen if flights between the UK and the EU were disrupted following Brexit.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren, who was on stage with O’Leary, quipped: “If you start grounding your planes, I’m flying.”

But Carsten Spohr of Lufthansa agreed with O’Leary: “In theory, if we could use this industry to prove to the British how wrong the decision was, that might be a good thing.”

Damage control
In London, Jacobs distanced the airline from O’Leary’s comments, saying he felt reassured by negotiations between the UK and the EU to install a two-year transition period after Brexit is enacted in March 2019.

“We think [grounded flights] will not be the case and we certainly don’t want it to be the case,” he said.

But UK regional airports are already missing out on new long-haul routes due to the uncertainty, COO Peter Bellew warned, as the world’s airlines fly instead to rival airports like Brussels.

“It is not London Heathrow that is going to be impacted, it may be the other airports around the UK, as they don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Airfares will probably also rise on US-UK flights, Jacobs predicted. Some airlines would drop transatlantic routes as a bilateral US-UK alternative to Open Skies may require airlines with bases in the UK to be owned in the UK.

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