The European Union on Friday signed an agreement with nine countries, as well as the UN mission in Kosovo, to create a common aviation area in a move hailed as boosting European economic and commercial integration.
The agreement opens up new opportunities for the aviation industry
The agreement, signed in Salzburg, Austria, "provides for new market opportunities for the European aviation industry by creating a single market for aviation consisting of 35 countries and more than 500 million people," according to a statement.
The EU signed the agreement with southeast European nations Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and the United Nations mission in Kosovo, as well as Iceland and Norway.
New opportunities for the aviation market
The creation of the European Common Aviation Area will put impetus on the political and economic integration of Europe, for which air transport plays a key role," said European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot.
The agreement is hoped to provide new avenues for the aviation industry
"The agreement will open up market opportunities for the aviation industry and give people better travel options," according to a statement issued by the EU. The agreement comes after the EU adopted in June 2005 a roadmap on aviation policy beyond the bloc.
"One fundamental aim of this policy is to create a wider Common Aviation Area with neighboring countries by 2010," the statement said. It said that a Euro-Mediterranean aviation agreement with Morocco had been reached in December 2005.
Friday's agreement adds "an extra 52 million inhabitants to the single European market," the statement said, referring to the 25 EU states plus the 10 entities in the aviation area.
"Air traffic between the EU and southeast Europe has seen
significant growth recently," it added, noting that this growth has been 121 percent since 2001.
"As existing restrictions on flights between the EU and the Balkan region will be removed, a level playing field for European carriers will be created and the trend for growth would be accelerated," it said.
Tourism is expected to add to growth as southeast Europe is "a huge growth area" with a "high number of under-utilized airports."
Making air traffic more efficient
The agreement also aims to make air traffic control more efficient.
"As forecasts for aircraft movements in the region are predicted to increase by more than 6 percent annually in the coming years, the agreement also aims to ensure that congestion in the skies will be eliminated by controlling air traffic flows in the most efficient manner," the statement said.
It said "existing blockages in the air traffic management system" were due to closure of airspace during the Balkan wars and the proposed aviation area was denied to remedy this.
The political agreement that was signed Friday is to be formalized on June 8.