EU Ministers Approve Delayed Open Skies Pact

Aviation pact between European Union and Israel approved despite upcoming Israeli election.

The council of European Union transportation ministers approved the new "Open Skies" aviation pact between the EU and Israel yesterday in Brussels, even though Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz canceled his trip for the signing. Katz announced last week he would not go to Brussels due to what he called the impropriety of taking a major action when a new Knesset is to be elected next month, followed by the formation of a new government.

The agreement, which would give unfettered landing rights in Israel and Europe to airlines from either origin, is expected to lower air travel costs to and from Israel. Israeli airlines strongly opposed the pact out of fears it would hurt their business. Local aviation industry executives said the approval of the agreement by the EU ministers is a positive message showing they are still interested in the pact and are willing to show patience with Israel during the election campaign - and that they assume the new government will proceed with the agreement after the election.

British airline easyJet lamented Israel's decision to put the Open Skies agreement with the EU on ice until after the January 22 elections, saying it had hoped to expand its service to Israel. "We are very disappointed," said Hugh Aitken, easyJet's United Kingdom commercial manager. "We want to increase our flights to Israel once the new Open Skies aviation agreement is implemented."

Aitken is the first European airline executive to discuss on record Israel's decision and its potential repercussions, although EU officials spoke off record saying a further delay in signing the pact could trigger changes in the deal and damage Israel's aviation ties with Europe. Aitken said easyJet had intended to schedule more flights to Israel from various locations throughout Europe, but that these plans must be put on hold due to Israel's deferral. He added that easyJet views Israel as an attractive destination for European tourists and that the country is a growing market that the firm wants to develop.