The European Union Transport Ministers have unanimously, as required, backed the Open Skies pact with the United States. At Britain’s request, however, there will be a five month delay beyond what was previously advised, with full implementation taking effect March 30, 2008 instead of Ocotber 28, 2007. The EU may withdraw the agreement by 2010 if Washington does not agree to allow foreign airlines to buy control of US carriers.
The agreement will allow EU and US airlines to fly between any city in the United States to any city in the 27 EU member nations. The deal is forecasted to increase transatlantic flights by 50 percent over five years and trigger takeovers amongst European airlines.
Immediately following the announcement, Continental issued a press release advising that they have filed an amended application with the Dept. of Transportation for rights to serve new routes in Europe when it comes into effect. If it can obtain the necessary slots at Heathrow, it wants to inaugurate service from its Houston hub before the summer of 2008. The airline plans to retain service to Gatwick and would also attempt Cleveland to Paris service.
The Open Skies pact would replace a series of bilateral agreements between the US and various EU member nations which were ruled illegal by the EU Court of Justice…although which remain in effect. Reuters summarizes the basics of the agreement here. The sticking point has long been foreign ownership in US carriers, which the EU has saved forthe next round of agreements.