'Open skies' deal with US could collapse

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'Open skies' deal with US could collapse
« on: December 06, 2007, 07:52:00 »
The deal on open skies to the US is in danger of collapse if the UK sticks to its pledge to withdraw unregulated access from Heathrow.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway told the Future of Air Transport conference in London yesterday: “The European Commission has not delivered on its mandate and threw away the prize of Heathrow. There will be a withdrawal of rights [at Heathrow] if it all goes up in smoke. That is what the [UK] Government has said.”

The EC concluded a deal this year to liberalise flights between the US and Europe from next March, giving European and US airlines unfettered access to Heathrow but maintaining restrictions on the operations of European airlines in the US.

Hopes of extending the agreement foundered on US domestic opposition. The UK Government criticised the deal, but withdrew its veto in return for a commitment to a second-tier liberalisation by 2010.

In theory, the Government could revert to the existing restrictions on access to Heathrow and revoke the rights of carriers such as Continental Airlines, Delta and Air France that have announced new services to the US from the airport next year.

Ridgway’s view was backed by aviation analyst Professor Rigas Doganis of Cranfield University and Professor Brian Havel, director of the International Aviation Law Institute in Chicago.

Doganis dismissed hopes of a further agreement, suggesting the promise of a second-stage deal was “a sop to Britain to accept the first stage”.

Havel also ruled out a stage-two agreement. “Access to Heathrow is what the US airlines wanted and they have lost interest in the process,” he said.

Paul Gretch, director of the office of international aviation at the US Department of Transport, insisted the US government was serious about further talks. But he warned: “There is not going to be a change [in policy] by this administration and it will be difficult with a new one.

“Our vision is not the same as the European Commission’s vision of an open aviation area between Europe and the US. An open aviation area is not going to happen.”