Qatar, EU to sign open skies agreement after agreeing terms

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar and the European Union have agreed to terms for an open skies agreement expected to be signed this year, the two sides said on Tuesday.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO, talks to media during a roundtable conference in New Delhi, India, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The move is part of a broad air services agreement that includes provisions on fair competition, transparency, the environment and consumer protections, although exact details have not been disclosed.

The agreement means “all air carriers from the 28 European Union member states and Qatar now have unlimited and unrestricted access to their respective territories,” Qatar Airways said in a statement.

European Commission Director General for Mobility and Transport Henrik Hololei told a CAPA summit in Doha the deal would help ensure open and fair markets. He did not elaborate.

Qatar Airways, like Emirates and Etihad Airways, has faced accusations of being unfairly state-subsidised, giving it an advantage over other carriers. The airlines deny this.

“We have taken bold steps by agreeing to articles on fair competition, social aspects, business practices and transparency,” Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker said.

As part of the agreement, Qatar would no longer force European carriers to have a local sales agent to operate flights to Doha, Baker said.

“Qatar has committed to offer a fair and friendly business environment and as a result European airlines will enjoy unrestricted commercial opportunities unlike ever before,” said Baker.

Hololei said talks with Oman on a similar deal would start in March. The United Arab Emirates had declined to engage in negotiations, he added.

Qatar’s talks with the EU follow an agreement reached last year with the United States to disclose detailed financial information about Qatar Airways.

That U.S. deal followed a lobbying campaign by some of the largest U.S. airlines which urged the U.S. government to challenge the conduct of the major Gulf carriers under “Open Skies” agreements.

Reporting by Eric Knecht; Writing by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Jason Neely and Edmund Blair