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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK
EU-US in 'open skies' talks
Passenger jets
Talks aimed at liberalising air services between the US and Europe have got underway in Washington.

The negotiations over a so-called 'open skies' policy could lead to US and EU airlines having unlimited access to airports on either side of the Atlantic.

At present flights between the US and EU are restricted by a number of bilateral deals that have been negotiated by individual governments.

Experts say full liberalisation between the EU and US could transform the industry, leading to mergers between airlines similar to Tuesday's deal between Air France and KLM.

"It's vital that we make the aviation industry a normal, straight forward industry like cars and telecommunications, where you can have global companies, you can buy and sell companies across national borders, and where the markets dictate what happens not the regulators, not the governments," British Airways director of government and industry, Andrew Cahn, told BBC World Business Report.

Reform

As well as freeing up routes between the US and Europe, EU carriers are also keen to be able to fly on US domestic routes.

A US-EU agreement has the potential to alter fundamentally the framework for transatlantic and global aviation
John Byerly, US State Department
The US is thought to be less keen on this option, although speaking earlier in the week the US State Department's chief negotiator John Byerly said wider issues could be discussed.

"As a central US objective we will aim to expand open skies to all of Europe," Mr Byerly said.

"We are open to additional ideas, however, and will discuss constructively models, proposals from the EU that go beyond our open skies model.

"A US-EU agreement has the potential to alter fundamentally the framework for transatlantic and global aviation," he added.

More competition

An open skies agreement could see major changes to trans-Atlantic services from London's Heathrow airport, with the US keen to secure wider access for its carriers.

At present, under a deal known as Bermuda 2, only four airlines are allowed to fly between Heathrow and the US.

These are Virgin Atlantic and British Airways from the UK and United Airlines and American Airlines from the US.

This will be the first time that Brussels has negotiated an aviation deal for the EU.

Washington had previously struck bilateral deals with 11 of the 15 EU member states.

But last year, the European Commission won the right to negotiate an overall deal following a ruling by the European Court of Justice.


WATCH AND LISTEN
British Airways director of government and industry, Andrew Cahn
"It's vital that we make the aviation industry a normal industry like cars and telecommunications"



SEE ALSO:
European airlines join forces
30 Sep 03  |  Business
Brussels wins 'open skies' battle
05 Nov 02  |  Business


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