The European Union has given the European Commission permission to pursue air traffic agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar to support its airlines, Reuters reported.
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Europe’s aviation industry, which contributes $123bn to EU gross domestic product, has been hit by the rapid expansion of Gulf airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, as well as shifting traffic flows to Asia.
The commission, the EU’s executive, asked member governments in December to give it a mandate to start talks on air transport agreements with countries including China, Turkey, several countries in south-east Asia, alongside the GCC.
Such agreements, usually done on a bilateral basis by individual governments, would set out where and how often foreign airlines could fly into the EU and vice versa.
EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said: “Once agreed, these agreements will offer new business opportunities to the whole aviation sector, new routes and better fares to passengers, whilst guaranteeing a level playing field to our companies”
Some European carriers, such as Lufthansa and Air France KLM, as well as major US airlines, have accused Gulf carriers of receiving unfair state subsidies, allegations they have rejected.
ACI EUROPE, the trade association for Europe’s airports, said EU-level agreements should replace “often-restrictive bilateral aviation agreements”.
“Airports have become network developers and they need full freedom to attract airlines to serve their destination. Restricting market access should no longer be allowed to constrain connectivity,” ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovec said.
For the first time, member states have introduced a sunset clause in the mandates to ensure that talks on bilateral agreements can resume if the EU-level ones drag on for too long.
EU member states cannot engage in bilateral talks over aviation deals as long as the EU-level negotiations are ongoing. That has sparked concern among some Gulf carriers such as Emirates that the EU-level mandates could be used to freeze their flying rights in Europe.
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