U.S. Government Seeks Open Skies Treaties in Europe

Article excerpt

The U.S. government is forging new international aviation agreements designed to let more airlines fly where they wish, a step that at least in theory should lower air fares by promoting competition.

The United States and Switzerland have given preliminary approval to an open-skies agreement that could increase the number of airlines serving routes between the two countries. The agreement will allow U.S. and Swiss airlines to operate from any point in one country to any point in the other country.

The deal means Swiss carriers have a great deal more territory opened to them than do U.S. airlines, because the only airports in Switzerland used by long-haul jets are in Geneva and Zurich. But the United States and the Netherlands, another small country, have a similar open-skies treaty, and the freedom has helped increase traffic between the countries.

The U.S.-Swiss agreement is the first of nine pacts the Clinton administration hopes to conclude with European countries this year. The other countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.

The administration hopes that opening up the smaller countries will help pressure nations with far more air traffic to and from the United States - particularly Britain, France and Germany - to liberalize their aviation treaties.

A new aviation treaty also has been struck with Canada. The agreement calls for 10 U.S. cities to get their first nonstop flights to Canada, and other cities could see increased service (Philadelphia already has nonstop service to Montreal and Toronto). Canadian airlines will have more access to important U.S. air markets, including Chicago and New York.

But critics say the U.S.-Canada agreement has its flaws. U.S. carriers already serve all major Canadian cities except Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has led to forecasts that Canadian carriers probably will take more business away from U.S. airlines than vice versa.

Another problem for the Americans is a three-year headstart given Canadian airlines to open any new route to the United States from Canada's three largest cities, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. About 80 percent of all trans-border air traffic now comes and goes from those three cities.

USAir could be among the losers from the agreement. …