The US and UK have agreed an Open Skies pact that will allow them to continue liberalized air services after the UK leaves the European Union (EU) in March 2019.

Announcing the new agreement late Nov. 28, UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said it would ensure the UK “remains one of the world’s leading aviation hubs after Brexit for both travelers and businesses.”

Transatlantic commercial passenger and cargo flights between the two countries currently operate within the European Union-US Open Skies agreement. But that will no longer apply from midnight March 29, 2019 when the UK is scheduled to separate from the EU trade bloc following a Brexit referendum in 2016.

The UK Department for Transport said the new agreement “will guarantee the continuation of the vital transatlantic routes used by tens of millions of passengers a year, ensuring people can continue to travel easily between the UK and US and maintaining choice and good value travel. It also protects our £50 billion trading relationship between our two countries that is supported by air travel.”

The agreement was welcomed by Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group.

“It’s critical that Britain maintains full access to international aviation markets so it can continue to develop its global trading links. This agreement is a significant positive development which we welcome,” Walsh said in a statement.

“The agreement, which closely follows the model US Open Skies agreement, facilitates strong competition and is clearly pro-consumer. The US is a major destination for British businesses and tourists while the UK welcomes many American visitors to its shores.”

North American airline lobbying association Airlines 4 America (A4A) also welcomed the deal. “Today’s announcement provides much needed certainty that when the UK exits the European Union there will be no disruption to air service for the traveling and shipping public,” A4A president and CEO Nick Calio said.

The UK Transport Department also said discussions on a new bilateral air services arrangement with Canada had reached “an advanced stage,” while bilaterals had been concluded with Albania, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Montenegro, Morocco and Switzerland.

However, there is much less certainty about how and when the UK will replace its air service rights with other EU countries.

A non-binding political declaration has been agreed by the UK and EU that calls for an air transport agreement to ensure continued connectivity for airlines within the European trade bloc. The Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) would ensure market access and “fair and open competition” for airlines, but there are no details of how or when it would be achieved.

And there are concerns that a formal withdrawal document agreed by the UK government and the EU on Sunday will be rejected by the UK Parliament, leaving open the possibility of no deal being in place by March 29. Industry observers warn that could lead to considerable air service disruptions.

Karen Walker/ATW karen.walker@informa.com