Mini `open skies' air pact expected in June

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The Independent Online
Anglo-American talks on liberalising rules on air services will resume on 1 June, with both sides hinting that an agreement will be reached.

The stage is set for what the US Transportation Department said yesterday was the likely signing of a "mini'' deal after four years of talks.

Sources said they hope to sign an agreement to open Heathrow to a second US carrier and to allow British Airways to run a permanent service to Philadelphia. One US airline, which has objected to a mini deal, said it was almost inevitable that an agreement would be reached.

A deal would pave the way for further talks on a wider "open skies'' air accord aimed at ending all restrictions on bilateral transatlantic services.

The US government is also expected to drop its ``fly America'' policy in which US public officials are not allowed to use foreign carriers. Agreements on services to regional airports in the UK and code sharing are also likely.

Any deal is likely to be criticised by United Airlines, which believes a piecemeal agreement that favours one or two airlines is wrong. The operator already flies Philadelphia-Heathrow and faces competition from American Airlines should a deal be reached in June.

Transport sources said a mini deal would be a stepping stone to wider talks.