US and European aviation players warn that protectionism could cloud the future of open-skies deals, as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first US open-skies agreement.

"There are challenges on the horizon," says Henrik Hololei, the European Commission's director-general for mobility and transport. "It's important to not hide behind the protectionism, and to enable the entry of new players in the market."

Hololei was speaking at a US State Department event in Washington DC, commemorating 25 years of US open-skies deals and the 10th anniversary of the US-EU open-skies agreement.

While speakers at the event broadly lauded the benefits of open-skies agreements, the milestone is being celebrated as questions remain over the future of US open-skies deals.

In his remarks, Hololei reminded his US counterparts of the delay faced by Norwegian Air International (NAI) in securing a foreign air carrier permit. The airline, which had been opposed by US labour groups, finally received the permit in late 2016 after three years - a delay that Hololei calls "unprecedented". EU officials had protested that the hold-up was not in line with the open-skies deal.

Norwegian is not the only airline facing criticism in the US. In recent years, three major US airlines have repeatedly called on regulators to review open-skies deals with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The carriers, alleging state subsidies for the Gulf nations' airlines, say this has resulted in unfair competition.

"There are some troubling signs of pushback," says John Byerly, a former State Department official who was the lead negotiator in several US open-skies deals. Byerly is now a lobbyist for Emirates and Norwegian.

"These currents of protectionism… are something we have to keep an eye on," he said on a panel at the State Department event.

The call to maintain US open-skies policies comes as the Trump administration favours putting American interests first in the country's trade deals and policies. An effort is also underway by US lawmakers to make it more difficult for foreign airlines like NAI to start up operations.

Source: Cirium Dashboard