British airlines that fly professional footballers, packages, PPE and car parts around Europe in chartered jets have lost as much as 70 per cent of their business to EU rivals this year because of Brussels red tape, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Some have been so badly penalised by the EU’s response to Brexit rules that they have been forced to move half their operations to Malta, which is in the EU. UK-registered airlines now have to obtain permits for each flight to and from EU countries. It is taking up to 30 days for permits to be issued, British airlines say.
Carriers based in the EU are not required to get permits for flights within the bloc – only for flights to and from the UK – but these are being issued within 48 hours by Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Vital cargo: Professional footballers, such as the England football team, are among those to use private jets
UK airline bosses say they have been ‘frozen out’ of contracts for European journeys since January 1 in favour of EU rivals as clients dare not risk delays or cancellations due to paperwork hold-ups. Contracts lost to EU airlines include chartered flights carrying European footballers and cargo trips delivering critical supplies including personal protective equipment (PPE), other medical supplies and parts for car makers.
Two airlines told the MoS they are shifting business to new bases in Malta to bypass the red tape, which has cost them millions of pounds of business. Titan Airways, based at Stansted Airport, and Jota Aviation, based at Biggin Hill, said they had lost contracts from clients including Royal Mail, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich football clubs, and Poste Italiane, the Italian postal service.
If Malta approves their application for Air Operator Certificate licences, the firms’ new EU subsidiaries could be operational in three months on an equal footing with EU rivals. UK Ministers are understood to be aware of the delays and loss of business, and are looking at ways to fix the problem.
Jota Aviation’s chief executive, Andy Green, said the decision to relocate to Malta was a matter of ‘deep regret’, because it would take jobs and tax revenue out of the UK. But he said he had no option as the post-Brexit permit system had ‘devastated’ his airline’s revenues since the start of the year, compounding heavy Covid losses.
He said: ‘We don’t currently fly between any EU countries – we don’t even get asked any more, because the perception is that it’s too difficult to navigate the paperwork. Our clients now think it’s just far easier to use an EU-registered aircraft.’
He said Spanish airline Swiftair and Swedish carrier West Air were delivering Royal Mail packages on internal UK flights. But Jota Aviation was told this year by Poste Italiane that it could no longer fulfil its contract delivering post in Italy as it was not EU-registered. Mean while, PPE for the NHS is being flown into the UK from China on Maltese-registered aircraft.
Green added: ‘This is not the level playing field we were promised in the Brexit deal – we struggle to see why we can’t continue with our Italian mail contract while Spanish and Swedish airlines are busy delivering Royal Mail parcels in the UK.’ Jota and Titan are among a group of airlines lobbying Ministers for a reciprocal arrangement to give UK airlines the same access as EU rivals. The Campaign to Save UK Aviation Jobs – which includes Loganair, CargoLogicAir and Air Tanker – estimates that its combined revenues fell by up to 40 per cent in January as costs rose 20 per cent, which it calls ‘unsustainable’.
In a worst-case scenario, they could have to ground their fleets, putting up to 4,000 jobs at risk. They also face greater restrictions on providing aircraft and crew to larger airlines, such as BA.
Alastair Willson, managing director of Titan Airways, said EU carriers could operate all wet-lease flights in the UK, while UK operators can only do so now in ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the EU.
AirTanker, based at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, regularly ran sub-charters for airlines in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands until last year. But it said it was now ‘virtually impossible to operate in this market’.
Its director, Tony Carder, said: ‘We recently lost two opportunities in France because it wasn’t possible to get approvals at short notice, and we would need to get nonobjections from French carriers.
‘We have aircraft sitting idle and have had to reduce the number of pilots we employ, while EU-based competitors operate flights from the UK that we could provide.’
The campaign is backed by Tory MP Paul Maynard, a former Aviation Minister who is leading talks with the Department for Transport. Ministers have been told that flexible aviation contracts are critical to the UK economy because British manufacturers rely on short-notice shipments of parts and equipment.
The DfT said: ‘We are engaging with EU member states to ensure UK airlines can operate to and from the EU with minimum administrative burden and delay.’
FLIGHT CURBS MAY HIT PRODUCTION OF THE CROWN
Delays restarting international travel could jeopardise the production of hit TV series including The Crown, the boss of the production giant behind the show has warned.
Wayne Garvie, president of international production at Sony Pictures Television – whose Left Bank Pictures subsidiary makes The Crown for Netflix – said his firm has already pushed back ‘two or three’ major shows due to Covid.
Extended travel restrictions could affect shooting overseas scenes for series five of The Crown, due to start filming in the next few months. Some scenes for series four, which included storylines set on Mustique, were shot in Spain.
Garvie said: ‘The Crown films internationally and so if we are restricted [on travel] we will have to think about that.’
He added: ‘The film and TV industry is really important to the way people perceive Britain.’
Business travel contributed £220billion to the economy before Covid but revenues have plunged 90 per cent. Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, is calling for ‘a clear roadmap for international travel’.
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