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European Law Monitor newsEU-US Open Skies: A new era in transatlantic aviation starts on 30 March

On Sunday, the new EU-US Air Transport Agreement will take effect. For the first time, European airlines can fly without restrictions from any point in the EU to any point in the US. "This marks the start of a new era in transatlantic aviation. This Agreement will bring more competition and cheaper flights to the US," said Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Transports. This agreement is the most ambitious air services deal ever negotiated. The two biggest aviation markets, encompassing 60% of world traffic, will cooperate closer in all fields of aviation policy. In May 2008, the European Commission will engage in second-stage negotiations with the US. "A fully Open Aviation Area between the EU and the US must remain our objective," adds Vice-President Barrot.

All EU airlines are now able to operate direct flights to the US from anywhere in Europe and not just from their home country. The Agreement removes all restrictions on routes, prices, or the number of weekly flights. Many airlines will increase the number of flights and destinations on Sunday. Flights between London-Heathrow and the US, for example, will increase about 20% compared to April 2007.

With about 50 million annual passengers between the EU and the US, the agreement covers by far the biggest international air transport market. The removal of all market access restrictions will stimulate competition. Prices for transatlantic flights are expected to fall. The benefits for consumers could reach up to €12 billion over the first five years. The Agreement could lead to the creation of 80 000 jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

For the first time, this agreement establishes closer cooperation between the EU and the US to tackle new challenges, such as security or the environment. This will facilitate the operations for airlines and airports and reduce hassle for passengers.

This cooperation is already delivering tangible results for example in the field of environment: The Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE) is a joint project to reduce the environmental impact of transatlantic flights. Greener transatlantic flights will reduce emissions per flight.

Building on the success of the European internal aviation market, this agreement is an important first step towards the normalisation of the international aviation industry. The ultimate objective of the European Union is to create a transatlantic Open Aviation Area: a single air transport market between the EU and the US with free flows of investment and no restrictions on air services, including access to the domestic markets of both parties. Therefore, the agreement taking effect on 30 March contains a strong mechanism for second-stage negotiations with a clear timetable, starting already in mid-May 2008.

The Agreement was signed on 30 April 2007 at the EU-US Transatlantic Summit in Washington. It replaces 21 bilateral agreements between Member States and the United States with their nationality restrictions. Until now, EU airlines could not operate flights to the US from outside their home country.