Caribbean countries have taken a major step towards a multilateral accord with the US as a group of states under the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) umbrella close on a new open skies deal. The states discussed the accord, the first time they have negotiated as a group with the US, in Trinidad in mid-August.
Although no formal accord between the USA and Caricom was reached, progress toward the text of an agreement was made, says a US Department of Transportation official. Jamaica and Surinam are the only two Caricom nations with individual open skies deals with the USA, but Caricom's recent progress toward a "single market and economy" - whereby all internal restrictions or discriminatory measures are to be removed by December 2005 - has added impetus.
Caricom could sign a deal with the USA that falls just short of open skies. Trinidad transport minister Franklin Khan says: "We must pursue these negotiations in the best interest of the Caricom air transport industry to ensure that foreign carriers do not enjoy an unfair advantage over Caricom carriers."
Some Caribbean nations refuse to participate in open skies until the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) - which comprises several Caricom members - gains Category 1 status under the FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessment programme. Because the OECS is now in Cat 2, OECS airlines are prohibited from expanding service or enhancing partnerships with US airlines.
BWIA West Indies Airways expansion plans have been hampered by the country's Cat 2 rating, for example.
MARY KIRBY WASHINGTON
Source: Airline Business