Air traffic controllers at Bratislava airport may be a bit busier in the future.
photo: Spectator Archives
However experts have said the deal, while good for shipping firms, is unlikely to bring much to Slovak trade, and that such an agreement would have been better made with a larger trading partner.
"The trade links between the US and Slovakia are very small, only about 5% of exports go to the US, so it's not as if it is a very big trade partner. The EU is a much bigger trade partner, and routes there from Bratislava by air don't really exist, only one to Munich," Pavol Ondriska, analyst at Slávia Capital brokerage house told The Slovak Spectator.
The inter-governmental agreement, which had been first initialled in Washington more than a year ago, replaces the 1987 US-Czechoslovakia Air Services agreement between the two countries.
The new agreement enables "airlines of both countries to immediately serve any destinations between the Slovak Republic and the United States, either in their own name or in cooperation with another airline, and, over the next few years, will remove all restrictions on international civil air passenger and cargo transport".
According to Ambassador Spielvogel the deal, which had operated only provisionally since January 2000, will give not just lower fees for a wider group of people, but also opens up an airport in the heart of Europe (Bratislava's M. R. Štefánik) which has been underused.
After signing the agreement, he added that the move could help boost US investment into Slovakia.
The Ministry of Transport was equally enthusiastic about the deal, but admitted its scope for boosting air links between Bratislava and the US were limited.
"This agreement will bring new business and investment into Slovakia and a legal framework for entities flying from the US to Slovakia and vice-versa while also improving the situation in the [air] carrier business. However, it is hard to imagine that it would bring any improvement to passenger transport, that anyone will launch a line between the US and Bratislava," said Anna Ghannamová, spokesperson for the Transport Ministry.
The small likelihood of a firm flying a direct route between Bratislava and the US has left international shipping and courier firms such as DHL and UPS, already operating in Slovakia, among the few likely to benefit directly from the 'Open Skies' deal.
At present the firms have to transport all shipments to Bratislava via land from Vienna. The new legislation would allow the firms to cut out land travel costs from the Austrian capital.
However, the firms themselves have been reluctant to comment on the deal.
Martin Tolvig, marketing head of DHL Slovakia, said: "It's too soon to tell what the effect of this new agreement will be. For now we must study it more closely before doing anything else."
However, the Dutch shipping giant TNT, also operating in Slovakia, said that while the deal favoured US firms such as DHL, there was "room for neutralising this situation".
The signing of the agreement is the 41st of its kind for the US. While the US administration says that such agreements "stimulate economic activity and are a key element in creating an attractive climate for investment", through a liberalised air transport environment, the Slovak government has no burning agenda to sign more deals.
"Any further agreements signed will depend on the government's priorities, but so far no particular countries have been mentioned," said the Transport Ministry's Ghannamová.
Experts have said that international air transport links between Bratislava and other Slovak cities such as Košice have to be increased, especially to cities within the EU, if Slovakia wants to really boost its trade. At present there are no scheduled flights from Bratislava to other European Union countries.
Slávia's Ondriska commented: "Air transport in Slovakia really should be much better."
The government has come under fire from other domestic carriers, including Slovenské aerolinie, for not doing enough to promote air transport from Slovak airports and to open up the sector to increased competition by dealing with issues such as high landing fees at Bratislava and high duties for import and export of aircraft and spare parts.
However, the latest deal has been welcomed by some existing carriers.
Christian Mandl, CEO of SkyEurope, which plans to launch scheduled flights from Bratislava to other destinations in the EU, told The Slovak Spectator: "Obviously this deal won't directly affect us, but anything that leads into an open skies policy is a step in the right direction."
29. Jan 2001 at 0:00 | Ed Holt