The European Union and the State of Qatar have today concluded negotiations for a landmark Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement – it will allow airlines from both the EU and Qatar (in other words Qatar Airways) unrestricted access to one another’s territories. The agreement will allow Qatar Airways to open as many new routes to the 28 European Union member states as it wishes – dependent on securing landing and takeoff slots of course.
Qatar Airways says the deal will provide a “significant competitive edge to air carriers of both sides,” although realistically the agreement is set to benefit Qatar the most. Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways says he hopes the deal will mean more airlines will start routes from Europe to Doha.
In the past, a number of airlines including Lufthansa have been sceptical and some might say downright hostile towards allowing Middle East airlines more access to European airports. As it stands, very few European airlines have services to Doha and it’s doubtful whether that will change because of the new Air Transport Agreement.
According to Qatar Airways, the agreement covers a number of important areas including air competition, environment, consumer protection, social aspects, and transparency, as well as the inclusion of a doing-business provision. However, full details of the agreement have not yet been published by the European Commission on Transport and it may still be several weeks before we get to read it in full.
Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport confirmed that the deal does include provisions for social issues which may well include workers rights. Again, Lufthansa (along with other European airlines) have been pushing the European Commission to make foreign competitors treat their staff in the same way that European carriers do if they want free access to the EU.
When Akbar Al Baker appeared at the European Commission transport committee meeting last year, he faced a number of probing questions about social issues at his airline – including allegations about cabin crew being fired because they wanted to get married or have a baby.
“Through these negotiations, both sides have demonstrated that positive engagement can build trust among nations, so they can embrace the benefits of competition,” commented Baker during the CAPA Aviation, Aeropolitical and Regulatory Summit which is being held in Doha.
“Our hope is that the success of these negotiations will encourage other trading blocs and significant aviation markets to join in achieving a liberalised global aviation regime for future generations. The agreement will offer a common platform for airlines in Europe and Qatar to understand each other better, creating new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.”
Henrik Hololei, the commission’s director of general mobility and transport said the two sides had managed to “reconcile our differences and found common ground through honest engagement and open dialogue.”
Watch this space for more details on the agreement which should follow in the coming weeks.