The US government in its third open skies meeting with European counterparts has offered the European Union a deal that could lift foreign ownership restrictions in the USA to 49%, end national carrier limitations for European airlines and expand US open skies rules to every EU country.

Cabotage within the USA was not included in the deal. However, John Byerly, US State Department deputy assistant secretary for transportation, in a conference call with reporters, says future liberalisation agreements could address this and other EU concerns.

An EU response was not immediately available.

The offer is part of the US government's push for a liberalised air accord with the European trading block that could result in a transatlantic air accord by the summer.

There are three key elements to the US government's offer. First, President Bush's administration will ask the US Congress to allow EU-based and owned airlines to own 49% of the voting stock in any US carrier, a near doubling from the 25% voting stock permitted under current US law.

The USA's deal also allows any EU-based and owned airline to operate point-to-point US services from any airport in Europe.


However, to sweeten the pill for a Congress that has repeatedly said it will not change foreign ownership restrictions, the US deal also requests full open skies within the EU.

This would negate bilateral agreements such as the problematic and restrictive Bermuda II accord between the UK and USA.

The US offer does solve some once insurmountable problems, including access to London Heathrow. "With full open skies [in Europe] Heathrow will no longer be constrained to four carriers [for transatlantic services]," says Byerly.

This, although not addressing slot constraints, will open Europe's busiest airport to full market forces, an economic philosophy wholly backed by the current US executive branch.

The US delegation is tentatively scheduled to visit Brussels for another meeting during the week of 29 March, where the US deal and the planned 9 March EU Transport Ministers meeting will be discussed.

The two sides first met to discuss transatlantic open skies in October, and held a second Brussels-based meeting in December.

Source: Flight Daily News