The Association of European Airlines (AEA) has called for a renewed drive to establish a so-called Transatlantic Common Aviation Area, subject to a single regulatory framework.

The AEA, the club of Europe's major carriers, makes the call in a draft policy paper scheduled for adoption at a late October meeting of the organisation's Presidents' Assembly.

AEA secretary general Karl-Heinz Neumeister says that the concept of common market rules on the transatlantic was raised as long ago as 1995 and adopted as an important objective by the European Union (EU) Council of Ministers a year later.

He notes, however, that preparatory work has been slow and points to a "lack of clarity about objectives and concern that important interests may be overlooked". Neumeister says: "Serious consideration should be given to all the issues involved." He expresses the hope that "action will be taken soon so that this framework can be put in place within a reasonably short time."

Implicit in the establishment of such an entity is a key role for Brussels to negotiate on behalf of Europe. European Commission (EC) officials welcomed the document, claiming it as the strongest industry backing yet for the EC's long-running argument that it should take over responsibility for negotiating an EU-wide aviation agreement.

The EC transport directorate has initiated legal proceedings against nine member states, and "infringement" proceedings against two others, for negotiating their own open skies agreements with the USA. Brussels says these conflict with the single European air market.

A significantly enhanced role for Brussels is implicit in the AEA's policy statement. Neumeister says: "Commercial opportunities available under bilateral air services agreements should remain unimpaired and all European countries concerned should be freely allowed, during the preparatory and negotiating process leading to the establishment of the Transatlantic Common Aviation Area, to develop these bilateral agreements further in accordance with their respective trade requirements."

He calls for the legal actions over bilateral agreements with the USA to be "discontinued as being inconsistent with the objective of creating a new framework for EU-US air services and detrimental to EU trade interests".

AEA deputy secretary general Kees Veenstra plays down the issue of whether air services agreements should be negotiated by Brussels or individual states, saying that it is "neither here nor there". Market access is only one aspect, he says. Even in the context of open markets, airlines were subject to an "ever-widening range of rules and regulations". This required "convergence and harmonisation, as well as market liberalisation-That's what we really want".

Source: Airline Business