Airlines from Asean member countries still cannot fly freely within the region but progress on an open skies regime has been good, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew yesterday.
He told The Straits Times: "We don't know whether a full open skies will be achieved because that's in 2015. But certainly what we have today ... is much better than what we had five years ago."
Asean transport ministers are committed to liberalisation, added Mr Lui, who was speaking on the sidelines of a gathering of aviation executives and government officials.
"Obviously, a lot more still needs to be done before (an open skies regime) fully materialises. We are all realistic. We know some of the constraints and difficulties that some countries may be facing."
Industry players said governments sometimes meet resistance from national carriers worried that they cannot complete with stronger airlines from neighbouring nations.
An open skies system would allow Singapore Airlines, for example, to fly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and then to Bangkok without having to seek permission from the various authorities.
In a speech earlier in the day at the opening of the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit, Mr Lui urged governments to consider the wider benefits of an open skies regime. He said: "This is not to say that it is painless to pursue liberal aviation policies", noting that uncompetitive airlines are likely to face severe pressures but ultimately, the benefits would far outweigh any downside.
Mr Sim Kallas, vice-president of the European Commission and its Transport Commissioner, said the experience in Europe has been positive.
"The opening of the Europe market and regional cooperation have created tremendous growth and have been very productive for Europe. I think it can bring benefits for Asean as well," he noted.
Both groups should also consider closer cooperation, added Mr Kallas.
The proposal will be discussed at the inaugural EU-Asean Aviation Summit today.
In September 2012, the European Commission identified Asean as a region that could offer good opportunities, including in aviation. It noted in a recent memo that Asean transport ministers have expressed interest to pursue aviation cooperation.
"This would generate significant benefits for both sides not only in terms of market liberalisation, but also in ensuring regulatory convergence, fair competition, and more trade and investment," the commission said.
A potential hitch looms in the form of the European Union's insistence on pushing ahead with unilateral plans to impose an emissions charge on carriers flying to Europe.
There is much resistance to this from other countries, with many saying the lead should be taken by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the United Nations agency that oversees civil aviation.
Mr Lui told The Straits Times: "In our conversations with the EU, they are adopting a more flexible position. We will certainly allow Mr Kallas to share some of that new thinking and position..."
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told the opening dinner of Singapore Airshow 2014 last night that aviation plays a key role in connecting Singapore to the world and enhancing its position as a global city. The air show opens today.