David Knibb/ORLANDO US Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater has agreed to hold an inquiry into Latin American complaints about alleged US abuse of open skies policies following a barrage of hostile questioning at a Miami conference.

Slater told the AvNews Latin America and Caribbean Airline CEO conference in May that the Clinton Administration may sign more open skies pacts with Latin American nations in its final months. Slater said liberalisation of the region's air service is a priority as it is forecast to become the fastest growing air market worldwide.

But Robert Papkin, a Washington lawyer who represents Latin aviation clients, told the conference that US-backed open skies policy may have reached its capacity in the region.

Three such accords were reported last year. One with Chile was actually signed in 1987 but Chile refused to put it into effect until LanChile gained antitrust immunity for its alliance with American Airlines. Another pact with Argentina remains in limbo because Aerolineas Argentinas is struggling and the new Buenos Aires government is critical of the accord. The third of last year's open skies pacts, with the Dominican Republic, "says more about its political relations with the USA than about aviation", Papkin says, because the Dominican Republic is rated Category III under the Federal Aviation Administration's safety assessment programme, which bars any Dominican airline from flying to the USA.

Slater gave no time frame for the inquiry, which is more likely to be an informal look at the situation, but he seemed surprised by the vehemence of some of the complaints. LanPeru, for instance, complained that all Peruvian carriers flying to the USA are required to wet lease aircraft and crew approved by the USA, even though Peru is graded as Category I. Conversely, US carriers have unlimited entry into Peru under the open skies bilateral. Latin American carriers also alleged that US carriers operating in the region under open skies regimes charge below-cost fares and deliberately dump capacity to drive out the home-based carriers.

Source: Airline Business