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Sky no longer the limit - 28/03/2008

Plane soaring through blue sky

Airport checks lifted between most EU countries and transatlantic flight restrictions ditched in new era for air travel.

Just months after the EU's passport-free area opened up eastwards to include another nine countries, border checks at airports have also been removed (30 March).

For Europeans travelling between the 24 countries concerned - whether by air, sea or land - border checks are now a thing of the past. And visitors to the EU need just one visa to travel to all these states.

It's not just this side of the Atlantic that flying is getting easier - in a move that looks highly promising for air travellers, the EU's open skies deal with the US has also entered into force. By lifting flight restrictions in a market that accounts for 60% of world traffic, this deal (signed with the US on 30 April 2007) is expected to generate more than €15bn in benefits for consumers in its first five years, and 80 000 new jobs in the EU and the US combined.

Transatlantic travel will no longer be the lucrative privilege of a few fortunate airlines. Instead, EU and US airlines will be free to fly to airports in each other's territory and from there on to other destinations. EU transport commissioner Barrot hailed the agreement as “a big step forward in international aviation” and said that benefits were already being felt.

The deal is part of the EU's overall plan to create a common aviation area by 2010 including its neighbours in the Mediterranean and countries further east, as well as the US. These closer relations will do more than just open markets - they will also allow the EU to ensure higher safety standards for international travel.

Negotiations on a second open skies agreement will begin at the end of May, to consolidate the EU-US air transport market as it takes shape and introduce further liberalisation.

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