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All EU airlines can now have direct flights to ASEAN countries like the Philippines, Singapore, or Thailand

Following an air transport agreement between the European Union and ASEAN, airlines from 37 countries are now able to operate an unlimited number of direct flights from and to these countries. There will also be more opportunities to fly to a country and then directly go to a third one.

Airplane in Europe
© Kevin Woblick, 2019

The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on October 17 signed an air transport agreement during the 28th ASEAN Transport Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, Indonesia in order to enhance connectivity between the two blocs.

Effective immediately, this first bloc-to-bloc air agreement replaces more than 140 bilateral air services agreements previously signed, helping reducing red tape, and create one for countries that didn’t have any.

One of the direct consequences is that all European Union airlines are now able to operate direct flights from any airports in the EU to all airports in the 10 ASEAN States, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The same applies to all airlines from ASEAN, with unlimited flight to EU airports.

Moreover, each airline will be able to fly up to 14 weekly passenger services to or from each EU Member State, and then fly to any other third country. These flights are operated with the fifth freedom trafic rights which allow foreign carriers to fly abroad, offload passengers or freight and then pick up passengers or cargo before flying on to a third country. It means that there will be the option for an airline to fly from Prague to Singapore and then to Manila for example. Airlines from ASEAN may also operate transatlantic flights to Americas via European capitals.

These first seven frequencies will be available immediately and the other seven frequencies two years after entry into force of the agreement, but only on routes not operated by airlines of the other party, one of the provisions to avoid market distortion.

An unlimited number of cargo services is immediately entitled to operate with the fifth freedom rights, i.e. via and beyond the two regions, to any third country.

The agreement is expected to provide a greater variety of destinations, more flight frequencies and travel options between South-East Asia and Europe with some routes opened for the first time, and more competitive prices.

One of the objectives is to be more competitive against offers of airlines companies from the Middle East.

But consequences of this market liberalization will also depend on many factors, like the routes profitability, demand and airport infrastructure of smaller hubs, among others.

Negotiations between the European Commission and ASEAN for a regional agreement started in 2016 and were finalized in June 2021.

For the European commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean, this air transport agreement “will support the aviation sector’s recovery after COVID-19 and restore much-needed connectivity to the benefit of some 1.1 billion people, enabling greater business, trade, tourism and people-to-people exchanges.”

Budi Karya Sumad, Minister of Transportation of Indonesia and chair of the ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting, said the agreement “will create more harmonious synergies to accelerate economic recovery, especially air connectivity between ASEAN and Europe, and will re-invigorate the global economy.”

Each country will still have the possibility to apply their own taxes, including fuel tax, as long as they apply to all carriers.

In regards to environmental concerns, “both parties also recognized the importance of environmental and social matters,” European Commission press release briefly mentioned. Ms Vălean added that the agreement “gives us a new platform to work jointly towards our shared commitment to economically, socially and environmentally sustainable aviation.”

The European Union already signed similar agreements for other partner countries like the United States, Canada, Qatar, the Western Balkans, Morocco, Georgia, Jordan, Moldova, Israel, Ukraine and Armenia.

Read more about the Philippines

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