Alan George/BRUSSELS

Deadlocked plans to expand Europe's liberalised single aviation market are set to receive a boost. Poland is close to agreeing terms for joining the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) next year, along with eight other states which have already struck agreements-in-principle with the European Commission (EC). Hungary, however, may have to wait until a later date.

Airlines and airports are meanwhile drafting voluntary codes of conduct as part of the European Union's air passenger rights drive. The codes should be adopted early next year, and will underpin new legislation on airline contracts and denied boarding.

An EC-Poland agreement could be reached by year-end, to be followed by ministerial approval next April, allowing an accord to be ratified by the Polish parliament the same year. Talks had stalled on the length of the transition period between ECAA entry and full liberalisation.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia are also set to join, while an agreement with Cyprus is also "very close", according to a senior Brussels official. The same source says Hungary could miss out, its entry having become "inextricably linked" to Budapest's negotiations for EU membership. The ECAA currently comprises the 15 EU member states plus Iceland and Norway.

Europe's airline passenger rights code is meanwhile likely to "echo" that adopted by US carriers last year, but will be "more precise". An EC policy document, issued in June, says the voluntary code should aim at "improvement of service quality as widely as possible". Suggested new measures include the compulsory offer to passengers of the lowest fare, and allowing reservations to be cancelled without penalty for 24 hours.

EC Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio is planning to propose new legislation on airline contracts with passengers, with details - to be finalised by the middle of next year - dependent on the content of the voluntary code. Far reaching proposals on denied boarding compensation are likely, while airlines may be required to co-operate in the production of regular league tables covering areas such as punctuality, denied boarding and baggage loss.

• The EC's Transport Directorate General is awaiting responses from most EU member states to its plans for revised regulations on the allocation of airport take-off and landing slots. Only Germany and Spain have responded. Brussels sees this as indicative of a lukewarm response to the proposals.

Source: Flight International