Of all the recent British start-up success stories, few has impacted so many of the general public as EasyJet: the low cost airline, which launched in 1995 and now operates a fleet of around 240 aircraft. It has brought scheduled air travel to many people who had never ventured beyond holiday charter flights before. Some - me included - have used it for commuting to jobs abroad. But now it faces a problem.
EasyJet took advantage - as did Irish low cost carrier Ryanair - of the EU’s “Open Skies” policy, which allowed it to expand rapidly throughout Europe and secure access to many cities’ primary airports (the carrier flies into Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Madrid Barajas, Barcelona - El Prat, and Milan Malpensa, for instance). So after last year’s referendum result, it was rumoured that it would leave the UK.
At the start of last July, the Mirror reported “EasyJet draws up plans to move headquarters out of UK in wake of Brexit vote … The airline has said however that the the vast majority of its staff would remain at the firm’s current headquarters at Luton Airport in Bedfordshire”. The Guardian has since added “UK-based airlines told to move to Europe after Brexit or lose major routes”. This was, predictably, dismissed as scaremongering.
Possible new EasyJet base? Praça do Comércio, Lisbon ...
But scaremongering it was not: Sky News has now heard that “Low-cost airline easyJet close to landing post-Brexit EU base … The low-cost carrier's board is expected to announce the location of a new EU base in April … Sky News understands that the low-cost carrier's board has pencilled in an April decision on the location of a new air operator's certificate (AOC), which will allow it to continue flying between EU member states”.
Like many of the potential post-Brexit company moves, “The decision will effectively entail the establishment of a new legal headquarters for easyJet, although the company has no plans to relocate the 1000 staff who work at its operational head office at Luton Airport”. So very little will change initially, but gradually the airline’s focus will switch to its new legal HQ. So where might that be (apart from not in the UK)?
... Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
“Member states including the Netherlands are understood to have been ruled out … One insider said an announcement was ‘weeks rather than days away’ but added that the shortlist of options was now ‘very short’ … sources said on Sunday that countries including Austria, Malta and Portugal had been under serious recent consideration”. All three are Eurozone countries, and committed to remaining EU member states.
And it isn’t just the HQ that will move: “easyJet is expected to have to amend its articles of association to require that a majority of the parent company's shares are owned by EU nationals”. These moves “follow warnings from officials on the Continent that airlines such as easyJet and British Airways' parent, International Airlines Group, must have a majority of their shares owned within the EU”. Yes, BA will be moving its HQ as well.
As BA’s parent company also runs Spanish carrier Iberia, they might well move their legal HQ to Spain. It’s just confirmation that there will be no sudden or instant change due to Brexit - but change there will be. And once those companies move their HQ abroad, they will not be moving it back. Something else the Leave campaign didn’t tell voters.