Officials from both the United States and Europe have expressed caution against protectionism potentially affecting open skies agreements, as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the very first US open skies deal.
“There are challenges on the horizon” ,said Henrik Hololei, the European Commission’s Director-General for Mobility and Transport.
“It’s important to not hide behind the protectionism, and to enable the entry of new players in the market.”
Hololei was the guest speaker at the US State Department shindig in Washington, DC, which honored a quarter century of US open-skies deals and the 10th anniversary of the US-EU open-skies agreement.
Speakers were quick to praise the benefits of open skies agreements, although a cloud of questions hang around, over the future of US open-skies deals.
During his speech, Hololei reminded his US counterparts of the delay faced by Norwegian Air International (NAI) in obtaining a foreign air carrier permit. The airline, which had been resisted by US labor groups, finally acquired the permit in late 2016 after three years – a delay that Hololei described as “unprecedented”. EU officials had protested that the hold-up was not in line with the open-skies deal.
Norwegian is not the only airline that has its fair share of detractors in America. In recent years, three major US airlines have repeatedly called on regulators to assess open-skies deals with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The carriers, alleging state subsidies for the Gulf nations’ airlines, say this has resulted in unfair competition.
“There are some troubling signs of pushback”, says John Byerly, a former State Department official who was the lead negotiator in several US open-skies deals. Byerly currently acts as a lobbyist for Emirates and Norwegian.
“These currents of protectionism… are something we have to keep an eye on”, he shared.
The call to uphold US open-skies policies comes as the Trump administration favors putting American interests first in the country’s trade deals and policies. An effort is also being undertaken by US lawmakers to make it harder for foreign airlines like NAI to start up operations.