Eight years after signaling their intent to forge closer air transport relations in part to counter a loss of traffic via the mega hubs in the Persian Gulf, representatives of the Europe Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) on Monday in Bali, Indonesia. The CATA marks the world’s first open skies agreement agreed between two economic blocs and sets “a significant milestone in world aviation history,” noted ASEAN secretary-general Dato Lim Jock Hoi.
When formalized, the agreement will allow unlimited third and fourth freedom rights for airlines of the combined 37 member states. In other words, airlines of the EU’s 27 member states and the 10 ASEAN countries—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—will be able to operate any number of non-stop flights between countries in both regions. In addition, airlines of each country of one bloc will be able to fly up to 14 weekly passenger services and any number of cargo services to each country of the other bloc with 5th freedom traffic rights, via any third country or beyond to any third country. For example, a European Union carrier flying from Paris or Frankfurt to Bali, Indonesia will be allowed to stop to pick up passengers and cargo at other destinations within ASEAN member states, perhaps most notably Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta.
“The agreement will help to support the aviation sector’s recovery post-Covid-19 and restore much-needed connectivity between our two regions, to the benefit of some 1.1 billion people, by enabling greater business, trade, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges,” said European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean. “It replaces more than 140 bilateral air services agreements, thereby providing a single set of rules and reducing red tape.”
As with all EU CATA’s, also the EU-ASEAN open skies agreement extends beyond traffic rights and includes increased cooperation in areas such as aviation safety, air traffic management, consumer protection, and environmental and social matters. It does not, however, include access to slots.
Negotiations started in October 2016 and concluded in June 2021 at the extraordinary ASEAN-EU senior transport officials meeting, followed by legal scrubbing and translation of the text in preparation for signature. The ASEAN-EU CATA must now undergo the process of ratification in accordance with the respective procedures of the ASEAN member states and the EU and its member states.