Julian Moxon/PARIS

European transport ministers have reached a tentative agreement to develop a common policy on open skies following the spate of recent agreements between individual countries and the USA.

Within a 15-day period, six European Union countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden) have signed preliminary open-skies accords with the USA, prompting a sudden drive by the European Commission (EC) for a unified stand on negotiations on air-traffic rights with non-EC states.

EC Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock backed down from his threat to take offending countries to the European Court at Luxembourg.

Despite their national open-skies accords, all (including the UK, which is negotiating a replacement for the Bermuda 2 agreement), have agreed to French transport minister Bernard Bosson's request at the 14 March meeting to carry out a joint study into the whole question of open skies. They turned down his demand for a complete cessation of negotiations, however, pending the completion of the study in June.

There is still plenty of opposition to the idea of giving negotiating rights to the EC. The Commission points out, however, that the hard-fought liberalisation of the internal European market could be threatened by the arrival of US carriers able to ignore the regulations protecting the rights of EC airlines.

In the Brussels meeting, the ministers also charged the EC with opening negotiations with non-EC member Switzerland (which is also seeking an open-skies deal with the USA) on giving it the same traffic rights as those accorded to EC states.

Source: Flight International