EC turns attention instead to bilaterals with other states

An early deal on a proposed transatlantic aviation free trade zone between the USA and Europe has been scuppered by US labour organisations, according to a UK Civil Aviation Authority report. Mean-while, the European Commission is pressing ahead with separate air service bilaterals with other countries.

A study by the CAA shows that any liberalisation of air services between European Union countries and the USA, as envisaged by the Transatlantic Common Aviation Area (TCAA) plan, would have a positive impact on employment, rather than a decline as predicted by US pilot and cabin crew unions.

Alex Plant, head of international aviation policy at the CAA, says that other fears voiced by the US Air Line Pilots Association such as the use of maritime-style flags of convenience are equally unfounded. Concerns that airlines could use European flightcrew in place of more heavily unionised US labour have stopped Washington's negotiators proposing deep liberalisation, says Plant.

"Labour is emerging as the single biggest issue from the US side, but this study shows those fears are overstated," he says.

The EC rejected a US proposal last month to replace existing national Open Skies agreements with a EU-US bilateral, despite some member states pressing for a quick initial deal followed by further talks. Any proposed mergers between EU airlines could be blocked by the US Department of Transportation until a new bilateral is signed. The US deal included Washington's core demand for liberalisation of London Heathow, but did not concede any EU demands for access to the US market. Plant, who represents the UK in the EC's TCAA panel of experts, says: "This proposed deal wouldn't take us further towards our goal of full liberalisation; but rather take us backwards since we would lose our biggest bargaining chip."

Talks are set to resume on 29 March, but insiders now think any deal is unlikely before next year, due to US elections in November. The EC is turning instead to other air services agreements, including ones with neighbouring countries. The Commission is requesting a mandate to renegotiate bilaterals with the countries of the western Balkans as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.

The EC says its plan is to create a European Common Aviation Area including Bulgaria, Romania, the former Yugoslavia and eventually Turkey. Talks will also be held with North African and eastern Mediterranean countries at a later stage, if member states give the body a similar mandate to negotiate. The EC is also preparing proposals for aviation negotiations with countries in east Asia and the Pacific Rim.


Source: Flight International