India and the European Union (EU) signed a landmark pact on civil aviation which will work like an 'open skies' agreement encouraging more airlines to offer services between the two continents.
The Horizontal Civil Aviation Agreement that will effectively legalise 26 separate deals, which India had held with individual EU member states, was signed here last night on the eve of their ninth annual India-EU Summit.
The deal was inked by India's ambassador to the EU J Bhagwati and officials from the French government and the EU's bureaucracy just ahead of the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, in the French port city of Marseille.
The aviation deal described as a liberal pact puts an end to nearly six years of legal uncertainty which began when the European Court in November 2002 decided that bilateral deals on civil aviation services between EU member states and third countries discriminated against airlines from other EU states.
It does not in itself change the number or frequency of flights between the EU and India, but EU officials said they hope
it will encourage more airlines to offer services between the continents.
Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines can hope to get more access to European destinations. EU carriers can also have better access to India.
In a way, the pact will work like an 'open skies' agreement between India and the EU, officials said.
The agreement between two of the world's largest trading partners provides far more flexibility than the air service
arrangements being pursued by India with individual EU members.
The EU has similar agreements with China and the US. Currently, 26 bilateral air services agreements exists between EU members and India.
The agreement would also allow people from either side to book an integrated ticket for travelling by different modes of transport such as road, rail, air and sea. It will also ensure technical cooperation between the two sides in areas like aviation safety, security and traffic management.
The pact would remove nationality restrictions (from the EU side) in the bilateral air services agreements between EU members and India. This would allow any designated airline from the member states and India to operate flights to each other's side where a bilateral agreement with India exists and traffic rights are available.
It is estimated that the US and the EU traffic constitutes about 30 per cent of India's total global air traffic, next to the Gulf (40 per cent). The monthly international traffic to and from India in April 2008 stood at 2.47 million, up 8.5 per cent over 2.28 million in the same period last year.
India is one of the world's fastest growing aviation markets and it is of increasing strategic importance to the EU and its industry.
Given the strong growth and infrastructure challenges facing India's aviation sector there are prospects of enhancing cooperation in civil aviation with India, an EU official said, adding the scope for cooperation is huge and will benefit
both India and EU industry.
In 2004, India and the EU upgraded their already strong relationship into a strategic partnership. This strategic partnership is underpinned by an agreed joint action plan in which civil aviation plays a key enabling role.
Since the adoption of this plan in September 2005, cooperation in this area has been given new impetus.