U.S. Airline Unions Oppose 'Open Skies' Proposal

Five airline labor groups Tuesday criticized a tentative "open skies" agreement reached last week between the Bush administration and the European Union.

The labor unions, which include the Air Line Pilots Association, Association of Flight Attendants, Transport Workers Union, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said the proposed agreement would result in job losses and financial instability for U.S. carriers.

U.S. and EU officials said the tentative agreement, by spurring investment in U.S. and European carriers, would create thousands jobs in the U.S. and Europe.

"We strongly object to the tentative air transport agreement," the five unions said in a written statement. "This agreement is not in the best interests of U.S. aviation workers or our economy.

"While the proposed agree ment has serious ramifications that must yet be thoroughly understood, the Bush administration has apparently committed to allowing greater foreign ownership of U.S. airlines. And, we are particularly concerned about a franchising provision that would allow foreign investors to control the operational decisions of our airlines.

"Just last year Congress overwhelmingly rejected attempts by the administration to impose new rules that would have permitted foreign interests to exercise control over U.S. airlines in violation of existing laws. Now the administration seems to be trying to achieve the same objective by other means."

The unions said their opposition has been deepened by the administration committing to further talks with the EU, beginning as early as later this year, to discuss the possibility of changing U.S. ownership and control laws and allowing foreign airlines to fly domestically.

"We are also disappointed with the process followed in these ne gotiations. Complex and substantial proposals with deep implications for the U.S. aviation industry and its workers were exchanged without providing adequate opportunity for review and comment by interested stakeholders," the unions said in the statement.

The groups said they will urge Congress to exercise its oversight authority vigorously.

"It is imperative that our government explain how the various complex provisions of the tentative agreement would work and how they would benefit U.S. interests, including U.S. airline workers," the unions said.

"The burden to demonstrate that the proposed agreement is in the interest of the United States is on the administration, and to date, that burden has not been met. Accordingly, we oppose this tentative agreement."

The tentative agreement would allow European airlines to fly from airports throughout Europe to any U.S. destinations, and it would permit U.S. carriers to fly anywhere in the European Union, officials said.

"Our agreement will offer more choice and convenience to American consumers, promote new growth in our aviation industry and support our continued economic expansion," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in a statement.

The proposed agreement must be approved by Congress and the EU.

A similar proposal to liberalize rules governing foreign ownership of U.S. airlines was issued as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the Department of Transportation in November 2005.

After a 60-day public comment period that featured criticism from more than 100 members of Congress, DOT shelved the process.

In mid-2006, DOT said it was reviving its proposal, but the agency withdrew it again in December.

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