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Brussels,12 October, 2011
EU–Russia aviation summit: 12-13 October, 2011
The EU–Russia aviation summit is jointly organised by the European Commission and the Russian Ministry of Transport (see IP/11/1177). The Commission expects this event to be the beginning of a new era of closer cooperation between the EU and Russia in the aviation sector. At the summit, relevant aviation issues will be discussed ranging from the overall legal framework for aviation to market developments, the environment and safety and security. Previous irritants in EU–Russia aviation relations, particularly regarding the questions of the legal uncertainty of bilateral air service agreements and Siberian overflight royalties, need to be overcome.
The legal framework for air transport between countries is traditionally defined through bilateral air service agreements (known as ASAs) between the respective governments. Within Europe, the situation changed significantly in the early 1990s when a single European aviation market was created. The "Open Skies" Court rulings of 2002 (see IP/02/1609) were a further crucial milestone. The Court stated that provisions limiting the benefits of ASAs to nationals of the Member States concerned are in breach of the Treaty's provisions on freedom of establishment. Hence, ASAs between Member States and third countries must now include an "EU designation" clause. With the exception of a very small number of third countries, ASAs between Member States and third countries have been adapted either bilaterally (between a single Member State and a third country), or through "horizontal agreements" (between the EU and a third country). Russia has recently for the first time accepted the principle of EU designation in its bilateral agreement with one EU Member State and has agreed to use this "pilot" agreement as a basis for restoring legal certainty to all its bilateral ASAs with EU Member States.
In addition to the issue of EU designation, EU airlines are obliged to pay charges for over-flying Siberia en route to many Asian destinations. This is in breach of international law1 and incompatible with EU competition law. A solution to the Siberian overflights issue was negotiated between the European Commission and the Russian government in 2006. In November 2006, an agreement to phase out Siberian overflight duties was signed by the Commission, the Council Presidency and the Russian Transport Minister, Igor Levitin. Russia has not yet implemented the agreement. However, Russia has confirmed that the agreement will be signed and take effect before a decision is taken on Russia's accession to the WTO.
With respect to Siberian overflight charges, EU carriers have been forced into agreements with their main competitor in Russia, Aeroflot. According to calculations of the Association of European Airlines, EU carriers are paying about €320 million a year in charges.
The absence of an "EU designation" creates serious practical problems. For example, after the takeover of Austrian Airlines by Lufthansa, Russia started to argue that flights operated by Austrian Airlines to Russia would no longer be covered by the ASA between Austria and Russia because the airline was no longer owned by Austrian interests. To the extent that "traffic rights" for flying over Russian territory are so far only granted for short time periods, this creates uncertainty as to whether Austrian Airlines – not being recognised as an "EU carrier" – might continue to have the right to fly over Russian territory. And there are other similar cases.
Article 15 of the Chicago Convention, according to which "no charge shall be imposed by any Contracting State solely for the right of transit over or entry into or exit from its territory of any aircraft of a Contracting State or persons or property thereon". However, the European Commission cannot activate this article, as the EU is only an "observer" and not a party to ICAO.