OSLO Norway and Iceland joined a U.S. and European Union "open skies" deal on Tuesday amid a transatlantic dispute about Europe's plans to impose carbon emissions permits on all flights from 2012.
Under the deal, airlines in non-EU members Norway and Iceland will be able to fly to the United States from anywhere in the 27-nation EU rather than just from domestic airports.
And EU carriers, for instance, will be able to open routes to the United States from Oslo or Reykjavik.
"Joining this agreement is...in line with our policy to open up markets and create a level playing field," Norwegian Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa told Reuters.
She said it would help harmonize regulations on both sides of the Atlantic and bring about safer travel.
A half-yearly meeting of European and U.S. officials on Wednesday in Oslo is set to discuss a dispute about EU plans to widen penalties for carbon emissions to aviation from January 1, 2012, to help slow global warming.
A senior European Commission official reiterated that the EU will not back down but expressed hopes for defusing the row. International flights have so far been omitted from U.N.-led plans for curbing climate change.
"There is no option. They have to comply with the law. But there's room to work on this" to curb emissions, Carlos Mestre of the EU Commission told Reuters.
He said that outsiders, such as the United States, could be given exemptions from the carbon permits if they put in place "equivalent measures" to cut aviation emissions.
"That is one of avenues we are going to explore," he said. U.S. negotiators declined comment.
The United States has no plans to match the EU plan from January 1, 2012, when the EU will require all airlines flying to Europe to be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), a system that forces polluters to buy permits for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit above a certain cap.
So far, China has led opposition to the plan, saying it will cost Chinese airlines 800 million yuan ($123 million) in the first year and more than triple that by 2020.
Norwegian and Icelandic aviation emissions policies are broadly in line with EU plans. "We're on the EU's side," a Norwegian official said.
The Association of European Airlines (AEA) and aircraft maker Airbus wrote to EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard last month, saying they were worried the dispute would result in trade conflict and retaliatory measures.
A group of U.S. airlines is challenging their inclusion in the ETS in European courts. Several U.S. environmental organizations urged the United States on Wednesday not to try to kill off the EU rules.
"It's disappointing that some parties are apparently trying to align the U.S. government with the airlines against the world's only enforceable program to reduce carbon pollution from airplanes," said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council.