The USA's surprise proposal to widen the scope of European Union-US open skies talks and sweep away "a global spider's web" of airline ownership rules has, as expected, failed to impress Europe's elected leaders.

Speaking at a European Aviation Club event in Brussels ahead of the start of second phase of talks, US lead negotiator John Byerly said the USA wanted to tackle issues of traffic rights, environmental constraints and investment liberalisation in the current round. An initial deal struck last year cleared the path for a raft of new transatlantic services in March.

As part of that, Byerly said the USA was hoping for a separate multinational agreement allowing an initial 60 nations - with which it already has open skies deals - to forgo nationality clauses in existing bilateral deals. These in its view acts as one of the chief obstacles to Europe's prized relaxation of US rules on foreign ownership of airlines.

Brian Simpson - the UK MEP and leader of the Socialist group of the transport committee of a sceptical European Parliament that last year warned its negotiators to reject "jam tomorrow" promises - is unconvinced.

"They may be 'enthusiastic', but there is nothing of substance, certainly 'no meat on the bone'. It still appears to me that the USA sees open skies as an opportunity for them to fly anywhere they want, but with no reciprocity when it comes to flying to and within the USA. This policy does little for consumers and reinforces the stringent protectionist ethos that governs civil aviation in the USA."

The European Commission has said it will consider this proposal, but notes its approach is to focus on securing an open aviation deal with the USA as a first priority.

Some member states such as the UK have already warned they will retain the right to reimpose restrictions if a second-stage deal with the USA on liberalising ownership rights is not secured by the end of 2010.

Source: Flight International