A comprehensive air transport agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is nearing completion—a deal that could provide a significant boost to air traffic and connect a combined population of 1.2 billion people.

Thirty-seven of the 38 countries involved are already in agreement, European Commission DG for mobility and transport Henrik Hololei told ATW at the Paris Air Show, adding that

an Open Skies deal was now a matter of “when” rather than “if.”

“We hoped that we would have already initialed the agreement by now, but we will get there sooner rather than later,” Hololei said. “There is just one country not on board. But there are no more negotiations, just some clarifications which we need to complete. I am very hopeful because it will be a gamechanger. It will be very beneficial for both of the regions.”

Proposals for an Open Skies deal between the EU and ASEAN were first announced in February 2014. The agreement would go beyond traffic rights to encourage cooperation on safety, security and air traffic management. An EU report released in 2016 estimated it could generate economic benefits of €7.9 billion ($8.9 billion) during the first seven years. 

Once implemented, Hololei said the agreement would become the first block-to-block accord. “ASEAN is the fastest-growing aviation market in the world, and we want to make sure we can open up the market so that it will benefit people and businesses,” he said.

When pushed for a timescale, Hololei said he hoped it would be in place before the end of the year at the latest.

The pending deal with ASEAN comes just weeks after the European Commission initialed an aviation pact with Qatar, the first such agreement between the EU and a country in the Gulf region. The deal, which includes provisions on fair competition, is expected to be concluded later this year.

There are currently no plans to start negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), however, Hololei said. Planned talks over an Open Skies deal were scrapped earlier this year.

“For the time being negotiations with the UAE are not happening,” he said. Asked whether they would come back on the table, Hololei said: “I sincerely hope so. But they need to find out themselves what kind of relationship they want with Europe.

“We are not only talking about traffic rights—we are talking about a much wider holistic aviation relationship and we are open to that. I hope that they will also see the benefits of further cooperation in areas of safety, security, air traffic management and beyond.”

David Casey, Routes david.casey@ubm.com