ASEAN and the European Union have concluded the world’s first block-to-block air transport agreement, to allow their airlines to expand their services to and within the respective regions. Once formalized, airlines from the combined 37 Member States – including 10 from South East Asia – can make an unlimited number of non-stop flights between the two regions. Importantly, airlines will also be able to offer up to 14 passenger services per week and an unlimited number of freight services via and beyond to any third country. This is good news that comes amid the decimation in air travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The deal could presage closer cooperation on issues ranging from aviation safety to air traffic management and environmental issues.

The deal is the result of years of intense negotiations, complicated in part by the way the European Union is structured. Air rights also tend to be a tricky subject to negotiate, especially as many airlines are viewed as “national carriers” that receive government support and subsidies. However, this global pact does not come a day too soon. The EU is ASEAN’s third-largest investment source and third-largest trading partner, with US $ 10.5 billion (S $ 13.9 billion) in foreign direct investment and US $ 226.2 billion of merchandise trade in 2020. The agreement is presented as reflecting the latest political thinking. in the regulation of air transport, including strong fair competition provisions and issues of doing business.

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