The UK, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have concluded open skies agreements—including fifth freedom rights—with Brazil just months after the European Commission decided to “pause” long-lasting talks with the South American country on an EU-wide comprehensive air transport agreement.
“Following the reopening of negotiations on an individual basis rather than with a bloc of countries, Brazil has begun to count the first results of negotiations aimed at opening the air traffic market and contributing to a greater freedom of operations for the companies of the countries that have signed the agreements,” the Brazilian civil aviation agency ANAC said in a statement. Brussels has failed to come to an agreement on behalf of the bloc’s 28 members.
ANAC said a meeting with a delegation from Finland is scheduled for September and it intends to negotiate also with Austria, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Colombia during the ICAO Air Services Negotiation event in Nairobi, Kenya, in mid-December.
EU countries are allowed to re-engage directly with Brazil on a bilateral air services agreement (BASA) as the European Commission’s mandate has been formally put on hold.
Brussels decided to end EU-wide negotiations with Brazil at the end of March. “After nearly eight years of negotiations, we have not yet managed to come to a mutual agreement,” EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said in a letter to Maurício Quintella Lessa, Brazil’s minister of Transport, Ports and Civil Aviation. “Therefore, taking into account the lack of progress that has been made in recent months, and in light of your recent letters, I have instructed my services to pause the negotiations for the time being.”
The European Commission in 2010 received a mandate from the Council, which represents the EU member countries, to negotiate an open skies with Brazil with a view to replacing the existing BASAs between member states and Brazil and to establishing an updated regulatory framework that would facilitate the growth of air services in advance of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
An agreement was reached, and initialed, in 2011, though the formal signing was twice postponed—much to the frustration of EU officials and negotiators—due to a change of government and political priorities in Brazil.
More recently, the relationship became strained over fair competition clauses and fifth freedom rights for Brazilian carriers to points beyond Europe. The latter were a no-go for some EU countries, mainly France and Germany.
The newly concluded bilateral open skies agreements—which still must be ratified—between Brazil and UK, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg remove all restrictions on routes, capacity, and the number of weekly flights. They also grant fifth freedom rights for Brazilian airlines beyond Europe. The open skies with the UK limits fifth freedom destinations to nine, but this might be eliminated in a later stage, according to ANAC.
The new open skies are part of Brazil’s strategy to liberalize market access. In recent weeks, ANAC authorized Avianca’s Argentinean affiliate Avian and Norwegian’s London Gatwick-based subsidiary Norwegian Air UK (NUK) to operate scheduled flights between their home countries (Argentina and the UK, respectively) and Brazil.
NUK still needs to obtain an air operator's license from ANAC but route rights are not dependent on the new open skies agreement between Brazil and the UK, which is expected to come into effect in September. “The frequencies currently available are already sufficient to meet the company's flights,” an ANAC spokeswoman told AIN, while emphasizing that NUK’s authorization is exclusively for long-distance international routes.
NUK has not yet released when it plans to launch services from the UK to Brazil. It launched its first route to South America, London Gatwick-Buenos Aires Ezeiza international airport, in February. Services will increase from four flights a week to a daily service in December “in response to strong demand,” the low-cost carrier said.
Norwegian did not apply for permission from the Brazilian authorities for other airlines in the group, like Norwegian Air Shuttle, Norwegian Air Norway, Dublin-based Norwegian Air International, or Norwegian Air Argentina (NAA), the ANAC spokeswoman said.