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At present, any EU airline can operate between two airports in the EU even if neither is in its own country. But airlines must purchase allowances, currently costing €7 for every tonne of CO2 emitted, on all intra-EU flights. Once the UK leaves the EU (due on 29 March 2019), British airports will no longer be in EU airspace. In theory, this leaves the UK with the choice of either abandoning EU rules but then not getting the benefits of EU airspace, or continuing with the current situation as if the Britain was still an EU member.
T&E’s legal analyst Kristina Wittkopp said: ‘The UK’s airports and airlines currently enjoy easy access to one of the world’s largest aviation markets. If they don’t abide by EU state aid rules and the EU emissions trading system but continue to enjoy this access, it would create an unfair advantage and that would both distort competition and see an increase in UK aviation traffic and thus emissions. That is why the best option would be for EU aviation rules to continue to apply to British airports and airlines – otherwise Britain could become a “carbon haven” for the air transport sector after Brexit.’
Emissions trading for EU aviation began in 2012, but the original hope that it would apply to all flights starting or landing at EU airports was thwarted when pressure from the US and emerging economy nations forced Europe to limit emissions trading to intra-EU flights only. As the first nation to leave the EU, the UK is an important test case for the full implications of leaving the ETS’s area of jurisdiction.
T&E’s report recommends that, after Brexit, the UK should join the European Common Aviation Area, a grouping of EU and non-EU states committed to respecting EU aviation legislation. It also recommends British membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency so the UK remains compliant with international aviation safety standards.