An aviation deal between the U.S. and the EU was backed by the European Parliament on Thursday. The Parliament said that the bargain opened up restricted trans-Atlantic routes to new rivals, but U.S. restrictions on foreign ownership of airlines remained a problem.
The "open skies" deal will allow airlines to fly from anywhere in the EU to any point in the U.S. It will take effect from March 30, 2008.
"It's page one in a new chapter in aviation on both sides of the Atlantic. It's an important stepping stone towards more integrated trans-Atlantic aviation traffic," said Belgian Socialist lawmaker Said El Khadraoui, charged with steering the new rules through the EU assembly.
European negotiators now want to push on with new talks to eliminate remaining barriers on airline ownership and limits to routes EU airlines can fly in the United States.
Under the new rules, U.S. carriers, for example, will now be able to fly from New York to London, where they can pick up passengers and fly on to Stockholm - offering competition on trips within the EU. But EU airlines will still not be able to operate domestic American lines, an issue EU parliamentarians urged the EU governments to take up with the Americans in further talks that are to start next year.
The EU has said the deal - already unanimously approved by the member states - would reduce the cost of tickets, putting an extra 25 million people on trans-Atlantic flights within five years. Just under 50 million travelers now fly those routes.
It has also said the deal will generate benefits of up to EUR12 billion (US$17 billion) in five years as ticket prices fall, airlines generate savings and the market grows. That would create up to 80,000 jobs spread equally between Europe and the United States, it said.
Currently, airlines flying between the EU and the United States operate on the basis of bilateral agreements between the individual member states and the U.S.