British Airways owner is reported to be seeking the support of the Spanish government as it steps up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

International Airlines Group has asked for Madrid’s help in its campaign to retain its operating rights should the UK leave of the European Union without a deal, according to reports.

IAG has been in talks with the Spanish government since at least last month, as it seeks to prove to Brussels that it complies with its airline ownership rules, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The UK is just over four months away from exiting the European Union, but has yet to secure a withdrawal agreement in negotiations with Brussels.

IAG’s status as a European carrier could be thrown into jeopardy if prime minister Theresa May fails to reach a deal.

Under existing rules, an airline must be more than 50% EU-owned and controlled to be considered European. IAG has yet to demonstrate that it meets this requirement.

The group was formed in 2011 via the combination of British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia. It also owns Spain-based budget airline Vueling, Aer Lingus and low cost long haul carrier Level.

IAG’s operational headquarters, which controls the management of its British and Spanish subsidiaries, is in London.

IAG told The Times: “We remain confident that a comprehensive air transport agreement between the EU and the UK will be reached. It’s in the UK and the
EU’s interests to have a fully liberalised aviation agreement.

“Even if there is no Brexit deal, both the EU and the UK have said they will put an agreement in place that allows flights to continue.”

European transport commissioner Violeta Bulc warned last month that she would not bend the rules for IAG if the UK were to quit the EU without a deal.

Meanwhile, airlines are reported to have discussed contingency plans with the government to ground some flights after Brexit in a move that would stop them from being liable for putting up stranded passengers.

Travellers would not be eligible for compensation and in most cases would not be able to claim on their insurance for any losses they incurred.

Under EU rules airlines can legitimately cancel a booking up to two weeks before departure and be held liable only for refunding the ticket price.

If the UK and the EU do not strike a “no-deal aviation treaty” up to a thousand flights a week could be cancelled.

Iata has estimated that in the worst case fewer than five per cent of the present weekly flights between the UK and Spain would be able to operate.

Should no aviation agreement be in place by mid-March the industry is understood to have discussed the possibility of cancelling, in advance, flights due to take off after Brexit.

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said that the organisation was confident that there would be an agreement on aviation between the UK and the EU.

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