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‘Open Skies’ heralds new era in air travel

LONDON, England (CNN) — The first plane has landed under the Open Skies agreement between the United States and Europe, heralding what many hope will be a new era in air travel.

The Continental Airways flight from Newark to Heathrow touched down under rainy London skies at dawn on Sunday morning.

Jeff Smisek, president of Continental, was onboard the flight. He told CNN that Heathrow landing rights had cost the airline $200 million — but that it had been money well invested.

The business traveler wants to come to Heathrow, Smisek told CNN’s Richard Quest, who was also on the flight. We have been locked out of Heathrow for decades and it is the most important business market in the world. We are delighted to be here.

Quest said other airlines were already landing at Heathrow, including a US Airways flight from Philadelphia and Northwest Airlines from Minneapolis.

The new deal means that passengers on both sides of the Atlantic will now have more options when it comes to nonstop flights.

Under the old agreement, governments on both sides of the Atlantic had to negotiate access for airlines to airports on a city-by-city basis. It also meant that a European carrier could not fly to the United States direct from another European nation.

Under the new deal, however, Air France can fly direct to Los Angeles from Heathrow, rather than rerouting via Paris, while British Airways can fly direct to New York from Paris.

National boundaries will no longer determined where planes can fly, Quest said before today’s flight.

Daniel Calleja, Director of the Air Transport Directorate of the European Commission said before the flight that you are going to have more possibilities in terms of choice, in terms of reduction in the price of tickets.

But some experts caution that more airlines crossing the Atlantic does not necessarily mean cheaper tickets, thanks to the high cost of oil as well as the expense of securing landing slots. Pricing on transatlantic economy flights is also seen as comparatively cheap compared to say flights within Europe.

Kevin Done, aerospace correspondent at the Financial Times, added: The idea that prices are going to be drastically reduced is well over done.

Deloitte UK aviation industry expert Graham Pickett told the UK’s Press Association: The Open Skies agreement could lead to greater competition between airlines for flights from Heathrow.

However, airlines keen to rival the incumbent players may find it difficult to secure slots … and alliances between carriers are seen as the best way to open up routes from Heathrow to the USA.

Further negotiations on Open Skies are due to be held by 2010, when it is expected the Europeans will want the right to fly within the United States itself, as well as be allowed to buy US airlines.

Elsewhere at Heathrow, the UK’s transport minister has said that the government is willing to help sort out the chaos caused by the new state-of-the-art $8.6 billion Terminal 5 that has left flights cancelled and delayed and passengers without their luggage, agencies report.

Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, said in a statement that Everything possible must be done to deliver a better service for passengers who are unfortunately still facing disruption and delays to their journeys, in comments reported by The Associated Press.

The agency added that extra staff had been brought in Sunday by British Airways, the sole occupant of T5, to help deal with an estimated 15,000 bags that had yet to be reunited with their owners. It also reported Sunday the cancellation of 37 domestic and European flights, bringing the total since the terminal opened Thursday to 245.
‘Open Skies’ heralds new era in air travel – found here.

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March 30, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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