SINGAPORE - As nations begin cautiously to reopen borders closed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Asean and the European Union (EU) have agreed to a landmark aviation agreement, the first region-to-region pact of its kind, that will allow for more flights between them.
Under the Asean-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, airlines from the 37 member countries within Asean and the European Union will be able to fly any number of services between both regions.
They will also be able to fly up to 14 weekly passenger services, and any number of cargo services via and beyond to any third country.
This could lead to more non-stop flights between Singapore and major European hubs, creating more competition between airlines and thus cheaper fares on such routes, said an expert.
Singapore's Ministry of Transport (MOT) on Friday (June 4) said the agreement would improve air connectivity between Asean and Europe, and facilitate exchanges between people and businesses.
"This will help support economic development in both regions as we work towards recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic," said MOT.
"In addition to air services liberalisation, the (agreement) provides for cooperation between Asean and the EU in areas such as aviation safety, air traffic management, consumer protection, and environmental and social issues."
The agreement was first mooted in February 2014 at an aviation summit between Asean and EU in Singapore.
Eight rounds of negotiations followed, starting in October 2016, before the agreement was concluded, MOT said.
Singapore led the negotiations for Asean, while the European Commission led negotiations for the EU.
Said Singapore Transport Minister S. Iswaran: "The successful conclusion of the Asean-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement is a historic achievement and a milestone in our bilateral ties.
"It is the first such region-to-region agreement and a statement of commitment by Asean and EU member states to work together to tide (them) over the current Covid-19 crisis, reconnect, and resume cross-border travel."
Asean secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi said the agreement would allow both Asean and Europe to reap further economic benefits, with the EU already the third largest source of investment and third largest trading partner for Asean.
Both organisations will now submit the agreement for vetting by lawyers, with its signing to be done at a later date.
National University of Singapore Law School's Professor Alan Tan, whose specialisations include aviation law, said the agreement would allow unlimited non-stop flights for Singapore carriers to places such as Paris that may currently have restrictions on such flights.
There could also be more transatlantic flights mounted by Singapore carriers to the Americas via cities such as Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid and Lisbon, he said.
"With more competition and choice, travellers should expect to enjoy more competitive fares on these routes," said Prof Tan.
However, smaller European cities are less likely to benefit from the agreement if the demand for flights is "simply not there", he noted.
The opportunity to operate more services will also help airlines gain new markets as they seek to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Prof Tan cautioned that the agreement was "no silver bullet". "Its impact is likely to be modest, at least in the initial years," he noted.
This is due to the limited number of connecting flights to a third country that can be operated on new routes to protect incumbent airlines, acute capacity constraints at some European airports and the formidable competition posed by Middle East carriers, he said.