Four years in the making, the open skies agreement reached by Washington and Brussels will replace a patchwork of bilateral pacts between some EU countries and the US. Instead there will be just one accord covering the entire 27 nation bloc. Under the deal there is also some relaxation of rules limiting foreign ownership of US airlines, with the prospect of more progress on that issue later.
The European Commission believes that over the next five years, this will mean 25 million more passengers will take to the skies; increased competition will lead to lower fares benefiting passengers to the tune of twelve billion euros and 80,000 new jobs will be created.
A significant element of the deal is that it would open London’s Heathrow airport to transatlantic flights from any US or European Union carrier. Currently only British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and American Airlines can fly those routes.
In contrast to British Airways – which is unhappy with the agreement – Virgin Atlantic has said it is actively looking at starting new routes between the US and EU countries. Other European and US carriers said that they are broadly in favour of the pact which is due to be signed on 30 April.