new era in transatlantic airline
service could be on the horizon, now that Europe's transport
ministers have given the European Commission a mandate to negotiate
air service agreements with the U.S. and other nations.
In Europe, this is being talked about as a very big deal because
it could fundamentally alter the structure of the industry. In
fact, that seems to be the whole idea.
The world today is served by a mosaic of European airlines,
flying the flags and reflecting the cultures of the U.K., Ireland,
Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, etc. It's quaint
and probably not terribly efficient. And it is the goal of the EC,
the administrative arm of the European Union, to change it.
Airlines have these strong national identities because for over
five decades international trade in aviation
developed and matured under a regime of bilateral agreements,
country to country. The typical deal between Country A and Country
B allowed for service by each other's airlines, but rarely offered
A-to-B opportunities for the airlines of Country C.
The architects of a united Europe in Brussels -- as well as some
deep thinkers on this side of the pond -- want to give this
bilateral approach the heave-ho.
What the European Commission wants is not 15 agreements between
the U.S. and 15 European nations, but one agreement between the
U.S. and the EU. The EC sees many benefits.
For one thing, it would serve the EU's goal of giving all
companies in the community equal opportunities to compete. It ill
serves the spirit of the common market -- and violates community
law -- for an airline in one EU country to be given greater access
to the U.S. market than an airline in some other EU country.
And by breaking down these national distinctions, the EC claims
it would facilitate "more cross-border investment activity, airline
mergers and the expansion of successful carriers outside their home
In Europe, the airlines of the future won't be named after
We're sure that a graduate student somewhere in Cambridge or New
Haven is busily putting a dollar value on the benefits this regime
could bring to U.S.
and European airlines and their wholesale and retail customers
in the form of better service and more competition, lower fares,
stronger alliances, etc.
Less likely is that somebody will put a dollar value -or a price
-- on homogenization.
Americans love Europe. But we love it because it's Ireland and
Italy, Greece and Spain, Finland and France and all those people,
places, and things (and breads and beers and chocolates and wines)
Of course, we wouldn't presume to allow our silly nostalgia for
the quaint and inefficient to stand in the way of European
unification or economic progress. We survived airline deregulation
in the U.S., we embraced the Euro -- and we'll manage to live with