UAE Willing To Start Open-Skies Talks with the European Union

More than two years after the European Commission invited the United Arab Emirates to enter into talks on concluding an EU-level comprehensive air transport agreement (CATA), the Gulf state has finally agreed to negotiate with Brussels. The formal approval follows pledges from Department of Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc that open skies with the bloc would offer more market access than what currently exits through the bilateral air transport agreements between the UAE and EU member countries, a European stakeholder told AIN. The development follows an agreement between the UAE and the U.S. earlier this year to resolve the years-long debate surrounding open skies policies between the two countries and alleged government subsidies.

UAE minister of economy and chairman of the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority Sultan Bin Saaed Al Mansoori confirmed his government’s readiness to negotiate in a letter to Bulc, noting that he “fully” shares her views that the EU and the UAE together can further enhance the global liberalization of aviation markets. “I also welcome the reassurance that your objective is truly ambitious in terms of an EU-UAE partnership, which—in all areas—goes further than what exists today,” he wrote, in reference to a clear demand from the UAE’s largest airline, Emirates. The UAE maintains open skies agreements with some 20 EU member states. Some include fifth freedom rights beyond Europe. Emirates, for instance, operates daily flights from Dubai to New York JFK with a stop in Milan Malpensa and to Newark with a stop in Athens.

The parties now must set a date for an initial negotiating round. The timeline of the talks, however, could prove complicated because the Commission’s mandate is valid for only three years and will end in June 2019 unless the EU’s member countries agree to prolong it.

EU member states gave the European Commission the authorization to open talks for a CATA with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) states, Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE in June 2016. A mandate for open-skies talks with Armenia followed in December and a mandate for EU-level talks with Oman came last week, according to a tweet of Commissioner Bulc.

An open-skies agreement with Oman could generate €210 million in economic revenue and give passengers more choice and cheaper tickets, she said.

Negotiations with ASEAN continue to progress well despite some disagreement over fifth freedom rights and a deal could be concluded before the end of the year. Progress on negotiations with Qatar has slowed mainly due to differences over certain aspects of the fair competition clause and fifth freedom traffic rights, although the sides plan to hold a technical meeting imminently.

This article first appeared on AIN Online on 27 Sept. 2018