Ryanair UK (RK, London Stansted) says it has cancelled 12 routes in and from the United Kingdom after what it termed the UK Civil Aviation Authority's "sudden change of policy" regarding the wet-leasing of aircraft from sister carrier Ryanair (FR, Dublin Int'l).

"We are disappointed to have to cancel 12 UK domestic and international (Morocco and Ukraine) routes from London [London Luton and London Stansted], Manchester Int'l, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Belfast Int'l, and Londonderry, because of the CAA's unexpected policy-shift late last night [on December 20]. Ryanair UK had agreed Brexit contingency arrangements with the CAA 2 years ago and cannot comply with its new and impractical requirements at 10 days’ notice," Ryanair's spokesperson said.

As exclusively reported by ch-aviation in early December 2020, Ryanair Holdings planned to shift the operation of all of its domestic routes in the UK, as well as international services to outside the European Union, to its British subsidiary as of January 2, 2021. Flights would have been operated by Ryanair on an intra-holding ACMI basis.

Following the finalisation of Brexit at the end of 2020, the UK no longer participates in the EU open skies agreements. As such, any EU carrier - including Ireland-certified Ryanair - is not permitted to operate either domestic flights in the UK or international services hitherto covered by EU-wide bilateral agreements. Flights between the UK and the EU are not affected.

The CAA responded that it did not change its policy but rather upheld a long-standing principle.

"It has been our long-standing position that a UK airline with a significant presence in the UK, such as Ryanair UK does, should not rely heavily on using wet-leased, foreign-registered aircraft to undertake their operations. Doing so undermines the competitiveness of the UK aviation industry and the effectiveness of the regulatory regime," Consumers and Markets Director Paul Smith said in a statement.

According to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, Ryanair UK operates a single B737-800, G-RUKA (msn 44687). The aircraft operated for the first time under the RK code on January 2, connecting Stansted to Podgorica, but has since flown only one more round trip, to Oslo Gardermoen, Flightradar24 ADS-B data shows.

The UK CAA contrasted Ryanair's strategy with that of easyJet (U2, London Luton), which also set up a local unit to deal with post-Brexit operations, easyJet UK (U2, London Luton). However, easyJet UK operates a total of 184 aircraft and is able to take over easyJet's operations from and within the UK without resorting to excessive intra-group wet-leases.

The UK has been in a renewed harsh lockdown since January 4, banning nearly all non-essential travel.