| BRDO, Slovenia
BRDO, Slovenia May 16 The European Union
expects to complete by 2010 talks with the United States on
liberalising transatlantic aviation, the bloc's chief negotiator
said on Friday, paving the way for increased competition.
"I hope that ... 2010 could be the year when we finalise the
negotiations but it will depend a lot on technical work," Daniel
Calleja Crespo, head of the European Commission's Aviation
Directorate, told reporters after talks in Slovenia ended.
The second round of "Open Skies" discussions, which started
on Thursday, builds on an agreement which entered into force in
March, allowing airlines to access any U.S. city from any point
in the EU and vice versa.
The move promises to increase competition between carriers,
could cut ticket prices and may eventually pave the way for
transatlantic mergers to create the first global airlines.
The United States surprised EU negotiators on Tuesday by
saying it would seek a wider deal by pledging to drop access
restriction for airlines from more than 60 nations.
"We think that's in our mutual interest because we have a
leadership role. There are no two areas of the world that have
done more to liberalise aviation," said John Byerly, U.S. Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation Affairs.
"We think we can lead the world and when you lead you have
to bring the rest of the world along," said Byerly, who is the
U.S. chief negotiator.
But the EU said it wants to complete the talks with
Washington before inviting others on board.
"Once the United States and Europe agree on liberalising
aviation, we would like other countries to share... but we think
we should first agree with the United States and then expand
this to the rest of the world," said Calleja.
He said, however, the U.S. proposal should not delay ongoing
talks and called it "a positive contribution" which has to be
integrated in the overall negotiations.
Byerly said investment liberalisation was likely to be the
most challenging issue in talks.
"Both sides have made proposals on investment liberalisation
because it can help our airline industry on both sides... to
have access to capital. We have different views, different
proposals," he said.
Britain has led critics of the earlier agreement and is
calling for the abolition of U.S. federal laws that cap foreign
control of U.S. airlines at 25 percent of their voting stock.
British Airways had said relaxation of U.S. ownership rules
was the most crucial issue, allowing airlines on either side of
the Atlantic to increase efficiency through mergers.
European airlines also want greater access to the U.S.
domestic market -- with the right to sell tickets for flights
between U.S. cities.
Britain has warned it will exercise its right to terminate
the Open Skies agreement if U.S. barriers are not lowered during
the current talks but Calleja said it was too early to say if
such a termination was likely to happen.
British Airways has been among the first to capitalise on
the existing agreement, with plans for flights to the United
States from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in addition to its
traditional hub at London's Heathrow airport. [nL16352090]
Meanwhile, rivals Air France and Delta Air Lines are
planning to move on Heathrow in a joint venture they expect to
generate $8 billion a year.
The next round of negotiation will take place in Washington
(Reporting by Marja Novak, Editing by Louise Ireland)