On the heels of Virgin America gaining citizenship, E.U. Ministers have approved an "open-skies" agreement between the E.U. and the U.S. that gives both European and U.S. airlines far more flexibility than before about where they fly from and to, and will also open up Europe's busiest airport, London Heathrow, to more competition.
The agreement is due to go into effect at the end of March, 2008, with the catch that E.U. countries can suspend the deal if they are unhappy with future negotiations. That's an important caveat because some officials and E.U. airline executives are concerned that the U.S. won't liberalize equally and will cause an imbalance in the agreement.
Even with these concerns, officials on both sides of the Atlantic agree the pact will benefit travelers and economies. "Tearing down regulatory barriers allows us to foster more affordable and convenient air travel and gives our airline industry more opportunities to compete, innovate and thrive. By expanding the ability of airlines to fly between Europe and the United States, this agreement will spur growth within our aviation network and enhance the freedom of American fliers to choose where and when they travel," U.S Transportation Secretary Peters said today in an email statement. According to Bloomberg.com, the European Commission reports that the deal will bring consumer savings of $16 billion over the next five years.
Open-skies discussions between the E.U. and the U.S. have stalled out before, so this major step towards deregulating Atlantic air travel is a big deal. And it means that starting next year, SmarterTravel.com will be able give you objective analyses on sales from even more providers.