MIAMI – It looks like Ryanair (FR) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are having quite the spat. The airline has canceled 12 domestic routes in the UK and is blaming the CAA’s wet lease policies.

According to an analysis of the situation by FlightGlobal, the issue stems from using wet leased foreign aircraft for flights from the United Kingdom. A wet lease is a leasing arrangement whereby one airline (the lessor) provides an aircraft, complete crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) to another airline or other type of business acting as a broker of air travel (the lessee), which pays by hours operated.

The CAA told the publication that a UK airline with the type of presence Ryanair UK has shouldn’t rely on foreign-registered aircraft for their operations.

Ryanair Boeing 737-800. Photo: Ryanair.

It’s All Because of Brexit

Speaking to Aviation Week Network on Dec. 22, a CAA spokesman explained that the situation had arisen because Ryanair was using Irish-registered aircraft to operate UK domestic routes. This would have to change once the UK left the EU at the end of the year and regained national sovereignty over such matters.

“Ryanair has a UK subsidiary and had only one aircraft on the [UK] register, but it wants to use Irish aircraft wet-leased into the UK business to use on UK routes,” the CAA spokesman said.

According to, Ryanair received that one aircraft, G-RUKA, new in September 2014 as EI-FEF. The airline re-registered the Boeing 737 on the UK aircraft registry by Ryanair UK two years ago in December 2018. Ryanair launched the subsidiary to give itself a presence in the United Kingdom in case of a hard Brexit. Out of the Ryanair Group’s 460 aircraft, only one belongs to its UK subsidiary.

The regulator said Ryanair’s current UK operations would breach regulations once the UK left the EU at midnight Dec. 31.

Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS reg. SP-RKK on final at Naples International Airport (NAP). Photo: Marco Macca – @aviator_ita

Ryanair and CAA Disagree

The Ireland-based carrier said Dec. 21 the “sudden change of policy” on the part of the UK regulator had resulted in “unjustified restrictions” and made operation of the routes impossible. The airline said the CAA introduced new regulatory barriers only 10 days before the UK was scheduled to leave the EU.

“Ryanair UK had agreed to Brexit contingency arrangements with the CAA two years ago. It cannot comply with the new and impractical requirements at 10 days’ notice,” the company said in a statement. 

Responding, Paul Smith at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said, “It is incorrect for the airline to state that the UK Civil Aviation Authority has changed its wet-leasing policy at short notice. It has been our long-standing position that a UK airline with a significant presence in the UK, such as Ryanair UK, 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. This is a view shared by regulators around the world. It has nothing to do with our preparations for the end of the transition period, which we have planned for extensively.”

“The decision to cancel these flights was taken by Ryanair alone. We will continue to engage with the airline as we seek to act in the best interest of consumers.” notes that Ryanair is not the only Irish airline in this situation. In December, the website revealed that the Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus would be establishing a UK subsidiary. The full-service carrier intends to re-register two Airbus A330-300s in the UK.

Featured image: Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS reg. EI-DHS taxing for take off at Naples International Airport (NAP). Photo: Marco Macca – @aviator_ita