Talks aimed at reaching a conclusion on the second phase of the open skies agreement between the EU and US resume on 22 March.

The first stage took affect in March 2008, and lifted restrictions on transatlantic flights between the EU and the USA.

Prior to the talks scheduled for later in the month, European Commission vice president of transport Siim Kallas on 11 March plans to update the current state of talks to transport ministers meeting in Brussels.

"Europe believes that the ground-breaking first stage agreement could be improved in a number of areas," says the European Commission. "In particular the second stage agreement is a significant opportunity for both sides to normalise the rules on airline investment, thereby facilitating ownership of European and US airlines by each other's investors."

Europe has long been a proponent of loosening current ownership restrictions of US carriers, and instituting cabotage in the USA. But those items are highly contentious issues for US labour groups.

The EC also says it believes the second-stage agreement is an opportunity to secure deeper regulatory cooperation in safety, security, competition enforcement and the environment.

Deepening cohesion on some of those issues, particularly the environment, could be challenging.

In December of 2009 the Air Transport Association of America and three of its member carriers - American, Continental and United Airlines - submitted to the UK a legal challenge of the European Union's (EU) emissions trading scheme that would require flights to, from and within the EU to be folded into the scheme beginning in 2012.

A stipulation included in the first stage agreement allows for the withdrawal of traffic rights secured in phase one of open skies to be withdrawn if the parties fail to finalise a stage two pact this year.

But the EC feels confident a deal can be concluded this year. "Given the progress already made in negotiations, Europe considers an agreement in 2010 to be the most likely outcome."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news