Bosses of the Arabian Gulf’s three biggest airlines expressed varying degrees of concern about the impact of this month’s Brexit referendum on the travel industry.
Airlines around the world are watching Britain’s decision whether to stay or exit the EU closely. If Britain were to leave the EU, it means that bilateral agreements between the country and the rest of the EU would be renegotiated. Equally, the open skies deal with EU countries will be invalid if Britain chooses to exit the union.
Tim Clark, president of Emirates airline and a British national himself, said that the Brexit would destabolise the aviation industry, hurt his business and create a “shockwave”.
“If the Brits decide to exit the EU, the shockwaves throughout the EU as it stands today will be pretty severe in my view,” said Mr Clark during a round table at the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s annual meeting in Dublin last week.
“For somebody that is running a business that has very, very high demand in our European countries and cities, to see destabilisation wouldn’t serve any purpose at all,” he said, adding that around 30 per cent to 40 per cent of their business comes out of Europe. “It’s vital for us.”
The Emirates chief, though, said the airline business can adapt to the new reality.
“I am forever the optimistic and would personally like to think that sense will prevail and this destabilising effect will not happen,” he said. “If there’s one thing the airline industry can do, it can adapt.”
“We’ve been a little bit disingenuous … we are far more capable of dealing with disruptions, big or small, than we were 20 years ago,” he added
Meanwhile, Etihad Aviation Group president and chief executive James Hogan said that a Brexit vote is “making people nervous”.
“People just don’t travel, people would sit at home,” he said
On a milder side, came Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, who believes that whatever the result, people will continue to travel.
“I think the people of Britain will make a decision that is very wise,” he said. Mr Al Baker added that regardless of the outcome, Qatar Airways will continue to fly to the UK. Qatar Airways is indirectly a stakeholder in British Airways via its 15 per cent ownership in IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Spain’s airline Iberia.
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