Friday, February 5, 2010
Susan Kurland, the current Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at the Department of Transportation addressed the ABA Forum on Air and Space Law last week in Washington, D.C. (available here) on key points of U.S. international aviation policy. Of particular interest were her remarks on the state of U.S./EC second stage negotiations and the future of antitrust immunity for airline alliances.
On the U.S./EC negotiations, she reaffirmed U.S. commitment to finalizing a second agreement and identified security, regulatory cooperation, and the role of the 2007 Air Transport Agreement's Joint Committee as areas where progress had been made. At the same time she indicated that the U.S. was not prepared to relax its foreign investment restrictions for airlines, noting that Congressional action would have to be taken first. Conspicuously absent from her remarks was the issue of cabotage despite the fact the EU has singled it out as a negotiating point.
As for antitrust immunity, Kurland implicitly rejected the contention that immunity proceedings were policy driven by stating that "the Department has granted antitrust immunity only in cases where it has determined that doing so would enhance competition and provide consumers with a broader choice of options and other benefits not otherwise available." While cognizant of the fact that U.S. open skies partners "have a strong interest in the Department's disposition of immunity cases involving their airlines," Kurland again "emphasize[d] that the review of each application, and its ultimate disposition, is based on the specific merits of each particular application."