Irish LCC Ryanair is more optimistic that flights between the UK and the European Union (EU) will not come to a grinding halt when the country leaves the bloc (Brexit) in March 2019.

Speaking in London March 7 as he unveiled Ryanair’s new environmental policy, chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs said progress has been made in Brexit negotiations in recent weeks.

In the past, Ryanair had predicted a complete cessation of air services between the UK and the 27-nation bloc if a suitable agreement is not reached between the two sides.

Jacobs said that recent comments by UK prime minister Theresa May that the UK would continue to have close relations with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) means the negotiations over the aviation sector appear to be heading in the right direction.

He added that discussions with other major airlines at the Airlines for Europe lobbying body in Brussels on March 6 had encouraged the LCC: “We don’t think flights will be grounded in 2019. The two sides are definitely getting closer to a transition deal that will manage to the end of 2020.”

However, he cautioned more work must be done to ensure the same problems do not arise when the UK and EU come to the end of the planned transition period at the close of 2020.

“What happens after January 2021 is more uncertain. The signals there are more negative than we would like. Market access is not guaranteed.” His feeling that is a new UK-US Open Skies agreement would not grant the same flexibilities that existed between the US and EU, of which the UK was currently part. That could result in restrictions in US-UK capacity, with fewer flights and higher fares.

Introducing the company’s environmental policy, Jacobs said this would partly be driven by the arrival of Ryanair’s new Boeing 737 MAX 200 fleet, a customized version of the 737 MAX with extra capacity. Ryanair’s existing 737-800 fleet already produced an 86% noise reduction compared to the 737-200 and that figure would rise to 93% with the latest variant.

The new aircraft is also expected to produce a 13%-14% reduction in fuel consumption over the 737-800; COO Peter Bellew said that an early MAX adopter, Indonesia’s Lion Air, was reporting a 17% improvement on its long sectors.

Ryanair also tries to minimize emissions by flying its aircraft a few knots slower than most airlines, Bellew said, adding it had the best record of any airline in adhering to track on landing approaches, minimizing noise nuisance to people on the ground.

The airline has introduced a voluntary €1 ($1.25) environmental levy on each fare, that passengers could pay to offset their carbon emissions. Ryanair will donate the resulting funds to charities in the climate change sector, he said.

Ryanair has previously announced its intention to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from the company within five years.

Alan Dron,