Open Skies in ASEAN, a Distant Dream as AEC Officially Kicks off

ASEAN Open Skies in the waiting?

ASEAN plans to open totally skies for all Southeast Asian carriers with the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on December 31, is unlikely to materialize before the year-end deadine. Indonesia and the Philippines continue to refuse to let ASEAN carriers to fly freely from their home countries to any destination of their choice. Indonesia is the most restrictive by strictly controlling capacities to all of its international airports but Jakarta. The Philippines are a bit more liberal. Airlines from ASEAN can have free access to any cities of the Philippines except to Manila. The eight other ASEAN member countries have already lifted all restrictions.

Aviation law professor Alan Tan of the National University of Singapore, who has been following the developments closely, told Singapore newspaper ‘The Straits Times’ in an interview: “I look forward to Indonesia and the Philippines accepting these final pieces of the puzzle soon in order to jump-start the Asean single market. Otherwise, there will be significant gaps.”Allowing carriers to fly without restrictions from their home country to another Asean city is just the first phase of the liberalisation process. A next step would then to allow any ASEAN carrier to carry passengers to a country beyond the country of origin and the country of destination. Or to allow as well domestic flights in another country.  These rights are for now not allowed. Lifting also restrictions on ownership would be a further step in the right direction. Most ASEAN countries do not allow for now foreigners to own the majority of the shares in home-registered airlines.

ASEAN countries restrictions towards total air liberalisation have been in place mostly to shield their own national carrier from possible competition. So far, a major handicap to achieve truly open skies is the absence of an ASEAN authority regulating traffic rights for airlines within ASEAN by taking pan-ASEAN decisions. Said Prof Alan Tan to the Straits Times: “Crucially, there is no supranational mechanism or organ in Asean that can compel member states to place the regional interest above individual, national interests.”

However, a major shift would be the signature of the first-ever bloc-to-bloc open skies agreement between ASEAN and the European Union. This would then pave the way to a most expected integration of air transport in the region.