Canada, Ireland Agree to Open Skies Deal

Air travel between Ireland and Canada is set to be liberalised later this year with the introduction of an open skies agreement that would mirror the deal signed between the European Union and the United States this week.

The deal allow airlines in both countries to fly to whatever cities they choose. At present, the only city in Canada open to an Irish carrier is Montreal while Air Canada operates a summer service from Toronto to Dublin, with every second flight stopping in Shannon.

Minister for Transport Martin Cullen said talks between the two governments were well advanced and a new deal should be agreed in the coming months. "This would mean new direct services between the two countries," Mr Cullen said. "Agreement should be pretty straightforward."

The current bilateral deal was signed in 1947 and last updated in 1957. The only flights between the two countries are run by Air Canada during the summer and by charter operators.

Canada recently signed a new bilateral with the UK and is in negotiations with the European Commission to cover all member states. Ireland's bilateral deal is expected to be signed in advance of an agreement with the EU.

About 100,000 Canadians visit Ireland each year. According to the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, which has lobbied the Government to renew the bilateral deal with Canada, this figure could rise to 150,000 a year by 2013.

Eamonn McKeon, the confederation's chief executive, said a new bilateral could see an expansion of services to Toronto, the fifth-busiest airport in North America, and possibly, for the first time, to Vancouver on Canada's west coast. "A number of carriers are interested in putting on a year-round service if a new deal is reached," Mr McKeon said. "There's no doubt this market has potential for growth."

Aer Lingus said it would consider launching routes to Canada if an open skies deal is concluded. "Canada is of interest to us," said Enda Corneille, Aer Lingus's commercial director. "A new bilateral agreement would make it easier for us to operate if there's no Shannon stopover."

Separately, Northwest Airlines, which is based in Minneapolis-St Paul, is in negotiations with the Dublin Airport Authority to launch a direct service from Detroit city in Michigan from next spring.

Detroit, situated between New York and Chicago, is a key hub for northwest which would offer passengers travelling from Dublin the opportunity to connect to its services to other parts of North America. It is understood that Northwest would only begin services when the Shannon stopover is scrapped from April 1st, 2008, when the open skies deal between the European Union and the US comes into force.