Brussels is ruling out a "quick-win" mini-deal in its negotiations with the USA on an open aviation area. Speaking at November's annual European Air Law Association Conference in Brussels, the head of air transport agreements at the European Commission (EC) Ludolf van Hasselt said: "We have made it clear that we are not interested in an early harvest." He warns that this would delay a more comprehensive deal.

In a further sign that progress on a deal in 2004 will be slow, senior members from both the Senate and the House aviation subcommittees in Washington have indicated that changes to control limits for US airlines are not likely in a presidential election year when concern over job losses will make Congress sympathetic to labour objections.

There is also little sign of progress on the key issue of access to London Heathrow for US carriers, currently restricted to American and United Airlines. The USA has made clear that it sees a transfer of Heathrow slots to US carriers as a must-have given the congestion at the airport. Observers have noted that the grey slot market at Heathrow may provide a way round this problem.

However, speaking at the same Air Law conference, the EC's head of slot reform Olga Koumartsioti said: "I think it is doubtful that the grey market should be allowed to develop. It distorts competition and is against the rules as they stand today." She admitted, however, that the slot pool at Heathrow "is of little use", given the congestion at the airport.

Van Hasselt flagged up a developing problem in negotiations between the EC and third countries on liberalising bilateral agreements. Although member states are obliged to drop restrictive nationality clauses, there is no obligation to change clauses on traffic rights. As a result, a mixture of single and multiple airline designations is developing, he warns. "This is a serious distortion and is hampering negotiations."

Source: Airline Business