Air Transport World

It's time to lead, DOT. (Department of Transportation should work towards open skies agreements with other countries) (includes list of open skies provisions) (Column)

The U.S., "definition" of open skies is, to the advancement of international-airline competition, like the rhetoric over Yugoslavia's civil war is to peace in that region: inadequate.

For 15 years, the U.S. has pestered the world to open up routes, rates and capacity. It has dangled several types of bait: Liberal bilaterals, open skies, the extra-bilateral-cities program, a deal with the EC and now, possibly, Central America. But an EC deal was the top priority. Three Republican administrations thought selling a bigger deal to a protectionist Congress would be easier than plunging ahead with a single country.

In recent years, though, the U.S. has been forced to reorder priorities. The EC can't yet negotiate for all of its members. So individual open-skies agreements have risen on the priority list - but not until the U.S. missed several opportunities. Over the years, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland and Germany suggested various forms of open-skies deals. To the small nations, the U.S. said: "We're holding out for bigger fish." Germany, a big fish, once said it was ready but it would not agree to the fare freedom the U.S. rightly insists must accompany open skies.

But DOT has stood by helplessly as France and Germany, which had liberalized access, became spooked by losses at their protected airlines and advocated regression. France denounced the U.S. bilateral. Germany wants a capacity freeze. And despite a former Transport Minister's liberalization initiative to his initiative receptive U.S. counterpart, the U.K. has not budged, either. So, the U.S. has resorted to using an agreement with the Netherlands as a lever to get the rest of Europe to open up.

Indeed, the U.K. used what should have been marketplace actions, United's and American's purchases of U.K. …

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