Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

EUROPE'S TRANSPORT Commissioner Neil Kinnock has won a mandate to start negotiations with the USA, which are expected to lead to a transatlantic open-skies pact, possibly within two years.

The mandate was agreed by European Union (EU) transport ministers on 17 June, with only the UK voting against the proposals. The ministers have agreed that the talks will take place in two phases, and will stay under review.

The first phase will be to agree the regulatory framework under which a common US/European aviation area would operate.

This includes agreement on rules covering competition, safety and airport access, as well as their enforcement.

No timeframe has been laid down, but the initial round of discussions is expected to take place in October, leading to a draft proposal early in 1997.

Under the terms of the mandate, this deal will have to go back for approval by the European transport ministers before Kinnock launches full-blown discussions on an open-skies agreement.

A senior Brussels official suggests that a deal could follow relatively swiftly, although he adds that the talks are going into unchartered territory.

"We don't anticipate negotiating for years, but there has never been agreement of this scale before," he says.

The biggest hurdle is expected to come from establishing the regulatory framework. The basis of talks has yet to be agreed, but they are expected to include traditionally contentious areas such as state aid, slot allocation and ownership of computer-reservation systems.

Agreement on safety issues will also accelerate moves towards greater harmonisation between the Federal Aviation Administration and Europe's Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). The European Commission and JAA are already embroiled in a tussle over who has ultimate authority for regulation within the EU.

Kinnock says that there will be "no roll-back" of any existing or pending bilateral agreement as a consequence of the mandate.

Source: Flight International