Airline group foresees delay to Asian open skies

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An Asian liberalisation initiative is unlikely to meet a target of implementation by 2015 because of the immature nature of some of Asia's airline markets, the head of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) has warned.

“Based on its past track record, you would have to be an optimist to think it will make the deadline,” says Andrew Herdman in reference to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) goal for establishing an open-skies agreement.

Herdman says the wide diversity between ASEAN states in terms of economic growth and the maturity of their aviation markets means "it’s not surprising they have different levels of enthusiasm” for the scheme.

“Obviously some carriers see this as an opportunity to open up markets and are in a strong position to take advantage of this, so they are enthusiasts. I don’t think markets are being held back; it's about who gets the benefit of it opening up,” he adds.

Herdman dismisses the prospect of a two-speed implementation of an open-skies scheme, citing a cultural “emphasis on consensus” in Asia and the potential stigma that would arise from being in the slower lane.

“ASEAN keeps moving two steps forward, one step back. Even as they make fitful progress to their objectives, they make even more ambitious targets, so it continues to move in the right direction. So you either celebrate the fact it’s moving in the right direction towards liberalisation, or you can lament the fact they keep missing their targets.”

But Herdman does say there remains plenty of opportunities to further liberalise markets in the meantime, as opportunities to renegotiate bilateral treaties are presented by talks ASEAN and China are conducting with the EU.