Ryanair will move UK fleet - but not to Dublin
Ryanair has already decided where its 85 aircraft based in the UK will be repositioned to in 2019 if a hard Brexit results in no aircraft being able to fly between the UK and the EU. But none of the jets will be transferred to Dublin, according to chief executive Michael O'Leary.
He said that with a hard Brexit the airline will in theory have to stop selling tickets in the UK towards the end of next year if no bilateral aviation agreement has been thrashed out between the UK and the EU in advance of it leaving the trading bloc.
"The UK are going to get pushed to the edge of the cliff and then they're going to get pushed over it," he said. "We don't see how you could negotiate a bilateral agreement within that period of time. We don't think there will be interim arrangements because it will take forever to get it through 27 European parliaments."
But Mr O'Leary also predicted that in a best-case growth scenario, the airline could be operating 1,000 aircraft by about 2030. It aims to be carrying 200 million passengers a year by 2024.
It currently has a fleet of about 400 Boeing aircraft that will grow to about 600 once it receives the last jets under a current order, in 2023.
"We're already talking to Boeing about aircraft for the period after 2023," he said. "We are continuously looking for aircraft opportunities."
He said not selling tickets for its UK flights by the end of next year is the "least desirable outcome" but that it is a potential scenario.
Mr O'Leary said that in reality, Ryanair will need to know three months before Brexit happens whether or not a new aviation agreement is in place that will enable it to keep operating flights in and out of the UK.
"People should not underestimate quite how difficult this is going to be," he said. "I don't think there's much appetite on the European side to help out the British, much as we would wish them to do so. The UK is going to suffer very severely if they continue down this road."
Mr O'Leary and Ryanair chief commercial officer David O'Brien said moving aircraft around is straightforward, but that redomiciling crew is more complex and will need to be done well before Brexit actually happens if no new air agreement is in place.
The Ryanair boss also claimed that there's "no way" that IAG, which owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, will be able to continue in its current form after Brexit. IAG is listed and headquartered in London but the company is registered in Madrid.
"It's going to get broken up if there's a hard Brexit," Mr O'Leary claimed.