DELTA AIR LINES chairman Ronald Allen, speaking as initial anti-trust immunity was granted for his airline's alliance with Swissair and Sabena, has called for the European Union (EU) to move "boldly and swiftly" towards a full open-skies deal with the USA.

Speaking to the European Aviation Club in Brussels on 22 May, Allen welcomed the "amazing" progress made in liberalising European air transport over the past three years.

He is optimistic that a US-European open-skies deal can be forged. "We are delighted that the EU Council of Ministers will consider a broad mandate for the Commission to begin liberalisation talks with the USA", he says.

Delta has received initial approval from the US Department of Transport (DoT), granting anti-trust immunity for an expansion of its relationship with Austrian Airlines, Sabena and Swissair, with which it already has codesharing agreements. Full approval is expected during June.

US President Bill Clinton's Administration has placed some restrictions on the immunity, which remains in effect for five years. The carriers must withdraw from all International Air Transport Association tariff-conference activities affecting prices between Austria and the USA, Belgium and Switzerland and for some other markets.

Allen says that this approval, and the signature on 23 May of the US-German open-skies accord, will serve as a "welcome catalyst" to broader EU-US co-operation. "The EU can no longer sit and watch its members open their markets to US airlines without taking action," he adds. "As always, free-market forces are pushing Government officials to respond."

He claims that the need for US cabotage (the freedom for carriers to operate services within other countries), although politically fraught, is "largely irrelevant", having been "-essentially replaced" by codesharing agreements. He says that the issue's potential to disrupt the talks "-greatly outweighs any commercial benefit realised by a US or European carrier".

The deal with the three EU carriers, says Allen, will enable the "Atlantic Excellence" alliance to serve around 300 cities with 3,513 weekly flights and 675 aircraft.

With the Lufthansa/United alliance already granted anti-trust immunity, the last of the current round of applications under DoT review is from American and Canadian Airlines International. Approval is expected shortly.

Source: Flight International