Leave No Stone Unturned in Open Skies

Speaking before the International Aviation Club in Washington, D.C., the European Union Commissioner highlighted political priorities for the upcoming discussions of European Union-United States Open Skies talks. “We have three main priorities in air transport policy,” said Barrot, “safety, sustainability and competitiveness.”

The first priority is always safety, he continued. He noted that in coming years, the European Safety Agency would become the single authority for safety across the European Union.

Referring to the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” released the week before, Barrot said, “We all know that aviation has an environmental impact, and I fully recognize that the industry has made excellent progress in minimizing the noise and emissions it produces.” But, he acknowledged, the industry will have more of a role to play.

On the issue of competitiveness, Barrot referred to the Lisbon Agenda and an aim that Europe achieve sustainable economic growth by 2010. “For aviation, this means creating a dynamic market for air services,” he said. Removing obstacles to free and fair competition produces benefits for airlines, airports, workers, consumers and communities, he continued. He stressed the importance of reinforcing the transatlantic link, saying that an immediate, concrete and visible example of this would be an ambitious and far-reaching E.U.-U.S. air transport agreement.

Barrot highlighted what he considered to be six advances made during the November 2005 negotiations.

1. Replace all existing bilateral agreements with a single E.U.-U.S. agreement extending open skies to all 27 E.U. member states, creating free competition on every transatlantic route.

2. New co-operation arrangements between competition authorities would ensure compatible approaches for the industry.

3. The agreement would establish strong cooperation on aviation security.

4. The agreement would also give structure to cooperation in other fields, including air safety and environment.

5. A joint committee would be created to raise and resolve issues related to the application of the agreement.

6. The agreement would remove the legal uncertainty surrounding the existing bilateral agreements—so that airlines and alliances could have a long-term future.

Estimates suggest the agreement would generate 25 million additional passengers over the next five years, it would produce €15 billion ($18 billion) in benefits for consumers and it would create 80,000 new jobs in the E.U. and U.S. combined.

A principal sticking point that blocked that agreement in 2005 and continues to limit progress is the U.S. rule on ownership and control of U.S. airlines. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had signaled a willingness to change that policy in 2005, but then recanted.

Saying the status quo is not an option, Barrot concluded he was confident “with creativity and imagination, our negotiators can find a positive result.”

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