by Ben Martin, The Daily Telegraph, July 1, 2016
Budget airline easyJet is pressing ahead with plans to set up a new company in Europe to avoid the fall-out from Brexit, a move that could see the carrier switch its legal headquarters abroad.
The FTSE 100 airline has started the process to acquire a so-called air operator certificate (AOC) in a European country as a contingency measure in case the UK loses its right to fly freely across Europe after it has left the EU. Gaining a certificate may result in easyJet legally registering its HQ in an EU country, although it insisted today that its 1,000-plus staff currently at its Luton Airport head office would be unaffected by such a change.
An AOC would require easyJet to set up an operating company in an EU country. The certificate would ensure the airline has unfettered access to the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), which is central to its business because it allows the short-haul carrier to fly to destinations across the continent.
Depending on the outcome of talks with European aviation regulators, the holding company will either be a subsidiary of easyJet or, more likely, become its legal headquarters.
There are fears Brexit would obstruct UK airlines’ access to the ECAA and it is understood a number of carriers are looking at purchasing AOCs. The Sunday Telegraph revealed before the referendum that easyJet, which is led by boss Carolyn McCall, was examining the certificates as a way of mitigating the impact of Brexit on its business.
It confirmed today that it had held "informal discussions" with regulators prior to the vote.
The airline was at pains to stress today that even if its HQ switched abroad, it would only need a skeleton staff at the new legal entity. It would, however, mean that easyJet’s annual general meetings and board meetings would be held in Europe, rather than the UK.
EasyJet has been based in Hanger 89 at Luton since it was founded by outspoken entrepreneur Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 1995. It has already been hit by the referendum, sounding a profit warning on Monday in which it cautioned that Brexit could damage consumer sentiment and that it would be hurt by the pound's sharp depreciation following the vote.
“Until the outcome of the UK/EU negotiations are clearer easyJet does not need to make any other structural or operational changes,” it said today, adding that it is lobbying to ensure the UK remains part of the EU aviation market. “We have no plans to move from Luton – our home for 20 years.”
Brexit could mean Irish no-frills carrier Ryanair needs to gain an AOC in the UK.
FTSE 100 giant International Airlines Group (IAG) owns British Airways, Spain’s Iberia and Ireland’s Aer Lingus and as a result already has AOCs in all three countries. Despite owning Britain’s flag carrier and being listed on the London Stock Exchange, IAG is legally a Spanish company and has its AGMs and board meetings in Madrid.
READ MORE ABOUT:
This article was written by Ben Martin from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.