Europe-U.S. Open Skies Moves Forward, Implementation Delayed

The European Union Transport Council approved the open skies agreement on March 22. However, in a concession to the United Kingdom, the agreement won't come into force until March 2008, five months later than had been originally scheduled.

Much focus is on flights to and from London's Heathrow Airport. On the British side, at present only British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are allowed transatlantic flights from the airport. United Airlines and American Airlines are the only U.S. carriers permitted to fly to and from Heathrow.

More generally the agreement permits any European carrier to fly from any European city to any city within the United States—usually only from a single European point to a single U.S. point--while U.S. airlines will be able to fly within Europe and to destinations beyond.

While complaining that the agreement seems to favor the United States, there are provisions that may later impede the agreement. Second-stage negotiations are to begin 60 days after the agreement's implementation. If a formula for greater operation on U.S. routes by foreign airlines and greater foreign ownership of U.S. airlines is not reached by 2010, European's will be permitted to suspend some U.S. air traffic rights.

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