Europe's forthcoming transatlantic open skies talks with Canada could prove pivotal to kick-starting stalled negotiations with the USA, writes Aimee Turner.

The European Commission chose to announce the start of open skies talks aimed at replacing Canada's numerous bilateral accords with individual European Union states on the eve of a visit to Brussels by a delegation of senior US aviation officials.

Briefing journalists ahead of two days of scheduled EC talks, US State Department official John Byerly appealed to Europe for ideas on how to restart the aviation deal after Washington ditched the plan to open its airlines to more foreign investment late last year.

Byerly warned that the foreign investment plans - a key EC demand - would not be resurrected because of vigorous political and industrial opposition.

"The [US] administration would have liked an outcome, but in the real world [foreign ownership] is not going to happen. After three and a half years of negotiations, we are close to the point where tough decisions need to be made on both sides," he said.

Canada, which is predicting that annual numbers of transatlantic passengers would increase from 8 million to 14 million by 2011 under an open skies regime, could benefit from being first in line.

Professor Karl Moore of McGill University in Canada says: "For the European Union, the bigger fish to fry is clearly the USA the EU is using negotiating an agreement with Canada as a way of putting pressure on our friends to the south and setting some potential precedents for agreements with others in the NAFTA region, namely, the USA."

Source: Flight International