Progress is being made toward reaching a comprehensive agreement between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) on an air services accord that would create a massive liberalized commercial aviation market, according to Singapore infrastructure and transport minister Khaw Boon Wan.


Singapore has been a key player in pushing for the pact, which would create a liberalized air transport market between two regions with a combined population of 1.1 billion people. Speaking at the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit, Khaw reiterated his strong support for an ASEAN-EU air services agreement, which would be the EU’s first bloc-to-bloc liberalized air transport accord.


Khaw said he, European commissioner for transport Violeta Bulc and ASEAN officials “had a lively discussion” about the potential agreement during a Feb. 14 meeting in Singapore. He added that a comprehensive agreement with the EU would build on the ASEAN Single Aviation Market that was initiated in 2015 to liberalize air traffic between capital cities in ASEAN member countries.


Khaw praised the ASEAN Single Aviation Market, which has now been in effect for more than 13 months, but said its potential has been stifled by poor coordination between air navigation service providers in Southeast Asia. “We need our airspaces to be better integrated so air traffic can be more efficiently managed and safety enhanced,” he said, calling for “one market, one seamless airspace” among ASEAN nations. “Governments are the key players in airspace integration,” Khaw added.


Financially struggling Southeast Asian airlines believe an ASEAN-EU air services agreement could make them more competitive with the major Gulf carriers. The 20% rise in the value of the US dollar over the last 18 months has “significantly limited the positive impact of the fall in fuel prices” for Southeast Asian airlines, IATA DG and CEO Tony Tyler, also speaking at the Singapore summit, said.


Tyler noted that “the super connectors in the Gulf,” namely Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, have been capturing market share on Europe-Asia routes that in the past were “a traditional market for Southeast Asian carriers.”


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