US and European negotiators have agreed to hasten the pace of second-stage open skies discussions following the conclusion of the fourth round of talks this week in Washington, Europe's lead open skies negotiator Daniel Calleja says.

The parties have until November 2010 to reach an agreement, or other side has the right to withdraw traffic rights secured in the first phase of open skies.

"Both sides agreed we should not wait," the European Commission's air transport directorate said to reporters today.

Brussels will host a fifth round of talks on 9 November, Calleja says, adding, "This will intensify the pace of negotiations."

Negotiators are tasked with sorting through several thorny issues including cabotage, foreign ownership and the environment.

Of the latest talks, Calleja says, "We covered most of the ground. We did not reach any agreement. A lot of technical work needs to be done."

Europe remains committed to liberalized foreign ownership, which the US currently caps at 25% and appears unlikely to change.

"We're ready to explore different possibilities," Calleja says of foreign ownership, noting Europe can draw from experience from other negotiations such as the landmark agreement it reached with Canada in 2008. "You have a wide range of options. We hope when we have the next meeting we'll be able to discuss options."

Its deal with Canada removes all restrictions on routes, frequencies and prices for flights between the EU and Canada and will also lead to further liberalisation of traffic rights as ownership restrictions are lifted. The four-phase agreement ultimately allows for the complete lifting of ownership restrictions and permits cabotage services.

The parties also discussed US labour concerns about increased foreign ownership, Calleja says, noting the EC has held two labour forums and tasked the commission's former air transport directorate Claude Chene with completing a report of labour concerns. Chene's report will be published in coming weeks, he says.

In addition to EU and US ownership limitations, the negotiators also discussed the possibility of waiving the nationality clause for other countries that have open skies arrangements with the EU or US, he says.

On top of increased foreign ownership, Europe continues to favour liberalized cabotage though the US appears unlikely to allow foreign carriers to operate domestic connections within the country.

"Cabotage is important to Europe," Calleja says. "Will it be possible to reach this? I think it is going to be very difficult."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news