Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

The European Union (EU) is close to sealing an agreement for the integration of 10 more states into Europe's liberalised single aviation market.

The deal, to be signed in the next few weeks, will see Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia join a "common aviation area", which includes the EU countries, plus Iceland and Norway.

As well as fully liberalising international air services between themselves, members must agree to open their domestic markets and relax rules governing foreign ownership of airlines.

"We are very close to an agreement," says EU head of air transport economic policy, Frederik Sorensen. "It should be a matter of weeks before we have an understanding we can initial." The agreements will be subject to ratification by each of the 10 countries.

Some of the 10 will be allowed to phase-in liberalisation over several years, particularly where there are concerns over the ability of national carriers to sustain increased competition in the near-term. It is understood that some states will be exempt from the immediate introduction of improved, Western-standard navigation equipment.

Negotiations are under way between the EU and Cyprus, but are not expected to be completed for months. The EU has reached a bilateral agreement with another non-member, Switzerland, which will join Europe's liberalised air market, subject to a public referendum on 21 May.

Source: Flight International