Peter Bennett

The European Commission is set to begin talks with 10 nations from central and eastern Europe in a bid to conclude a comprehensive air transport agreement with the region.

The agreement is likely to include cabotage rights for east European airlines, airline ownership rights and a full review of safety standards in airports and airlines in the region. Talks with the east European states are due to start by the end of the year.

The 10 countries to enter negotiations are headed by Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia - the five most likely to join the European Union first, as well as Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania. The Commission may also ask Cyprus to begin negotiations.

The Association Agreement, signed by aspiring nations to the European Union, mandates the Commission to negotiate an open skies agreement by the time the first EU expansion wave begins.

A Commission official says an eventual agreement will probably include an extension of the Third Package agreement and a two-year transitional phase. The official adds that the Commission will impose the two-year transition period despite two countries, Slovenia and Latvia, saying they are willing to accept a free market access agreement as soon as is feasible.

Although the initial talks are due to start before the end of this year, an exact timetable for the beginning of the agreement is less clear. The EC does admit though that it is probable a free access agreement will be in place before any of the five frontrunning countries from Central Europe join the European Union.

Source: Airline Business