Wizz, Thomas Cook Seek New Flying Licenses to Stay Brexit-Proof

(Bloomberg) -- Wizz Air Holdings Plc, Eastern Europe’s biggest discount airline, is setting up a U.K. arm to safeguard flights in the event that Brexit disrupts operating rights, while London-based Thomas Cook Group Plc will establish a division in Spain seeking similar guarantees.

Hungary’s Wizz has applied for a U.K. air operator’s certificate starting in March 2018, the Budapest-based carrier said Wednesday. Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest holiday company, plans to launch its new unit in Majorca early next year once a Spanish AOC has been obtained.

Airlines are taking steps to secure services in case talks on Britain leaving the European Union fail to maintain the current regime allowing unlimited flights within the bloc. Wizz is seeking to protect its base at Luton, near London, where it has 41 routes, while Thomas Cook wants to guarantee access to its largest destination for U.K. tourists and secure greater flexibility in deploying planes.

“It is a a natural, next step in the development of our U.K. business,” Wizz Chief Executive Officer Jozsef Varadi said in a statement, adding that the move will make the carrier “Brexit-ready” and could create as many as 100 jobs in Britain by end of 2018, subject to approval by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Flexible Fleet

Thomas Cook’s Spanish division, to be established with three Airbus SE A320 planes from its defunct Belgian arm, is primarily aimed at maximizing flexibility by building up a fleet free from previous labor restrictions while reducing the company’s need to lease in planes over the busy summer period.

A deal with Canada’s Air Transat means excess aircraft can now be redeployed during the winter, easing concerns about excess capacity.

The jetliners won’t be limited to Majorca routes, according to the company, and will serve with the German Condor unit next year. Post-Brexit, it may also be wise not to have too many planes tied to the U.K. fleet, a spokesman said.
Luton-based EasyJet Plc said on July 20 that it had secured an Austrian license allowing it to establish an EasyJet Europe division in Vienna. The new unit means Britain’s biggest discount airline can carry on flying between and within remaining EU member states regardless of the outcome of the Brexit talks.

Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest no-frills airline and based in Dublin, has said previously that it may seek a U.K. operating license to safeguard its handful of British domestic services. The Irish carrier hasn’t so far suggested that it needs a U.K. license to protect its main London Stansted operation.

While carriers including Wizz have said any changes to Europe’s liberal operating environment could hurt earnings, they’ve almost universally rejected the notion that flights between Britain and the EU could be suspended, mainly because halting the flow of British travelers would hurt Mediterranean tourist economies. That view has been echoed by U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.

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