As the first phase of the European Union/US open skies agreement comes into effect on 30 March, attention is turning to second-stage negotiations, which begin in May and will again tackle the controversial issue of airline ownership and control.

Daniel Calleja, director of the European Commission's air transport directorate, told Flight's Airline Business that the EU is looking for all foreign ownership restrictions on US carriers to be lifted so that aviation can be treated "like any other sector".

But this aim will meet with strong resistance in the USA, where Calleja's counterpart, John Byerly, deputy assistant secretary of state for transportation affairs, says there are "very strongly held views by airline labour groups" that any liberalisation in this area could pose a danger to them.

The issue of wet-leasing, whereby a European carrier could fly under its own colours in the US market using aircraft and crew provided by a US airline, could potentially pave the way to some form of compromise. "Wet-leasing is covered in the first-stage agreement but not domestically," says Calleja. "This is one of the items we have identified as a priority - we would like to further liberalise wet-leasing." However, Calleja adds that "it would be wrong to say you would accept" such a compromise at the outset of negotiations, noting instead that "we have to be ambitious".

Phase two talks begin on 15 May in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Other issues under discussion will be further liberalisation of traffic rights, more access to government-financed air transport, the environment, security and night flight curfews.

Source: Flight International