U.S.-EU Open Skies Protocol Maintains Status Quo on Cabotage and Foreign Control of U.S. Airlines

The draft Open Skies protocol initialed by the United States and the European Union this week did not include language sought by the European Union to allow cabotage or foreign control of U.S. airlines, and the agreement underscored the value of high labor standards. While the protocol has not yet been ratified, the agreement reflects important progress in protecting U.S. jobs, but challenges lie ahead for ALPA to defend pilots and other workers’ interests in connection with the U.S.-EU air services agreement.

On March 25, the United States and the European Union initialed a protocol amending the 2007 “first stage” air transport agreement. Once the protocol enters into force, it will complete the obligation contained in the first-stage agreement for the two sides to engage in “second-stage negotiations” that include the discussion of further liberalization of traffic rights, wet lease of European airline aircraft to U.S. airlines on U.S. domestic routes, and additional foreign investment opportunities.

During the negotiations, the European Union sought the right for its airlines to carry U.S. cabotage traffic and conduct domestic wet lease operations on domestic routes, as well as the elimination of restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. airlines. The United States did not agree to any of these requests. The two sides did agree to have the Joint Committee (the body established to monitor developments under the agreement) undertake an annual review of any new developments toward changes in the U.S. ownership and control rules and to create a process of cooperation, “including appropriate recommendations to the parties.” Any actual amendment of the ownership and control rules would be left to Congress.

In addition, the protocol contains a new article on labor that recognizes the value of high labor standards and notes that the Joint Committee is to undertake regular consideration of the effects of the agreement on airline workers and develop responses to those concerns where appropriate. Also, among other things, the protocol contains new provisions on cooperation on environmental issues, the process by which the two sides may implement noise-based operating restrictions, and the reciprocal recognition of the fitness and citizenship determinations by the aviation authorities of the parties.

The United States and the European Union hope to complete internal government reviews of the initialed protocol and formally sign off on the document by the end of June.

ALPA participated as a member of the U.S. delegation and worked with the U.S. negotiators, the Obama Administration and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO throughout the two years of negotiations to advance the interests of the Association’s members and U.S. airline workers.