BELGIUM/EUROPE. Some 93,000 flights could be grounded and 20 million passengers lost in the event of a disorderly Brexit, ACI Europe President Dr Michael Kerkloh has warned.

Kerkloh said that Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal would mean that up to €2.1 billion would be lost in GDP and 43,000 jobs could disappear.

Michael Kerkloh said the European airport industry faces ‘burning issues’ including Brexit, drones and airlines’ calls for lower charges.

Kerkloh, who is also CEO of Munich Airport, was speaking to delegates at the annual New Year reception in the European Parliament. He noted that other “burning issues”, including geopolitical risk, disruption caused by drones and a lack of “accord” in the European Commission’s approach to airport capacity all threaten the resilience of air traffic and the airports industry.

We do understand that if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, the status quo cannot be an option. But we are worried about the contingency measures proposed on the EU side,” Kerkloh said.

“In particular, freezing airline capacity will hurt connectivity and consumers on both sides.”

He commended the “impressive resilience” of air traffic last year but cautioned that this strength may be “running out of steam” amid the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March, when the UK is scheduled to leave the bloc.

On the EU side, larger airports and big cities might withstand the shock. But medium-sized and smaller airports and their regional communities will be much more affected – as their exposure to the UK can be very significant,” Kerkloh added.

“Let’s not forget that behind these contingency measures there are people’s lives and jobs. We feel that we need more balance in these contingencies.”

Drones recently disrupted flights at London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Kerkloh called for “no-drone zones” to be established around European airports and suggested that “geofencing”, a technology that facilitates the remote disabling of drones, should become mandatory.

He also warned that airlines’ consistent calls for lower airport charges threaten “the development of quality infrastructure needed to accommodate air transport demand over the next 20 years”.

Kerkloh added: “It is no surprise that these calls coincide with airlines being increasingly less supportive of airport capacity developments and also opposing slot allocation reform.

“All this comes down to creating market conditions [that] limit airline competition and allow them to charge more in airfares and ancillaries. I doubt this is what consumers and our communities expect from an efficient European aviation market.”

The European Commission will soon release its own evaluation report of the current EU Directive on Airport Charges.

As reported, with the growing possibility of a no-deal exit, travel retail industry campaigners are stepping up the pressure on the UK government to ensure the platform is in place for a revival of duty free sales between the UK and EU from 29 March, when the UK is scheduled to leave the bloc.