25th Oct 2016

Open skies agreement endangered by US Congress

The US House of Representatives has passed protectionist measures under the "air safety flag" which could endanger the EU-US open skies agreement, if approved by the Senate, the EU's ambassador to Washington, John Bruton, says.

With many congressmen elected on "protectionist platforms", the House of Representatives is becoming the US' branch of government which is giving in most to protectionism under different flags, including airline safety, Mr Bruton said on Tuesday at a briefing organised by the European policy centre, a Brussels-based think tank.

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The former Irish prime minister, who has been acting as the European commission's ambassador to Washington since 2004, said Europe was neglecting the importance of Congress, which as an elected body is just as important in the US decision making process as the government or the White House.

Last week, the House passed a bill containing "language which would negate the Open Skies agreement", Mr Bruton said, referring to an aviation liberalisation deal enacted last year and allowing any European and American airline to fly between any point in the European Union and any point in the United States.

The provision passed as part of the budget re-authorisation for the Federal Aviation Administration requires FAA experts to inspect at least twice annually any European maintenance facility handling American airliners.

The bill's initiator, James Oberstar, said inspections of these facilities would "ensure that foreign entities conducting repair work on US aircraft adhere to US safety standards and regulations."

The move prompted the EU to freeze the enactment of an air safety accord signed last June with the US, warning that if tit-for-tat European inspections of repair facilities in the US were carried out, it would cost millions of euros for each side.

Some 400 European facilities maintain American planes, while in the US there are over 1,200 maintenance shops providing service to foreign airlines, including European ones.

Mr Bruton said it was now his "main task" to persuade the Senate to remove this provision, as it would jeopardize both the Open Skies and the air safety agreement, which to him were two of the biggest "diplomatic achievements" in EU-US relations.

He would also try to lift the remaining restrictions for European airlines, for instance the right to operate intra-US flights, as "Americans should benefit from the competition with European companies on their market, as EU citizens do."

The Open Skies agreement currently restricts EU airlines to operate intra-US flights, although it permits American companies to operate intra-EU flights.


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