`Open Skies' to be a Boon for Orlando

May 2, 2007
European travelers faced the same burdensome rules that inhibited travel to America. But now travelers will have greater flexibility and choice at competitive prices.

Don't be surprised if there are more Leprechaun sightings in Orlando next year! Shocking as it sounds, the United States-European Union Open Skies Air Transport Agreement signed on Monday will increase the number of flights, giving the consumer or businessman better, competitive choices -- including new, direct flights by Irish airline Aer Lingus from Ireland to Orlando.

For decades, American travelers' options have been limited by outdated aviation rules, making it difficult for them to conduct business and vacation in important European markets. Likewise, European travelers faced the same burdensome rules that inhibited travel to America. But now travelers will have greater flexibility and choice at competitive prices. This partnership will help advance global economic prosperity and international commerce, a key commitment of the Bush administration.

Both leisure travel and business travel combined make up an industry that has become one of America's leading exports, contributing 2.6 percent of GDP in the United States. Exports in this industry are defined as travel-related purchases made here in the U.S. by international visitors. European visitors account for nearly a third of all U.S. travel and tourism-related exports -- spending more than $31 billion in the United Sates in 2006. U.S.-EU travel is forecast to grow 26 percent from 2006-2010.

Other U.S. and European carriers have also announced new flights to U.S. travel destinations. Delta, Continental and British Airlines have announced new nonstop services. Virgin Atlantic is interested in extending new direct flights from other European countries, encouraging more competition. Ireland's Ryanair announced its plan to acquire a fleet of 40 to 50 aircraft to launch a trans-Atlantic airline to the U.S., planning to provide service to a half-dozen U.S. cities by mid-2009 with fares as low as $12. This is important because U.S. businesses depend on an efficient transport system for global sales and to reach a broader market.

Creating a more efficient air-transport system also increases worldwide productivity, reducing distances between manufacturers, suppliers and customers. U.S. business competitiveness is enhanced through the enabling of optimal supply chain and lean, just-in-time manufacturing processes. Worldwide airfreight services carry 40 percent of trade by value and the EU-US market accounts for more than 70 pecent of the world's freighter fleet. Monday's agreement provides greater flexibilities for cargo air carriers to expand their services and conduct more efficient operations.

It will now be easier for American companies to conduct business and export their products because "Open Skies" principles have been extended to a total of 27 European countries, including 11 new countries where we had restrictive agreements or none at all. Some of the new markets consist of Greece, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom. It also opens a whole new range of routing opportunities for airlines. As new flights and destinations are opened, the agreement will have additional effects: reduced airfares, new jobs, and investment in businesses that surround airports.

This week's historic Open Skies partnership creates new business and consumer opportunities for fostering greater trade and prosperity between the United States and the European Union. Our agreement with the EU sets an important precedent and encourages other countries to open their aviation markets. Canada has since announced its desire to enter into a similar partnership with the EU.

Every day global economies grow closer, as free-trade agreements rewrite the rules for goods and services to move freely across borders unrestricted. But some key trading markets for the United States, such as China and Japan, still retain outdated and restrictive aviation operating rules. Opening these markets will lead to even further trade and prosperity.

CONTACT: Franklin Lavin is the under secretary of International Trade for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

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