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Press: Blair to urge Bush to back "Open Skies"

U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair is to make a last-ditch effort to exclude Heathrow airport from an “open skies” aviation agreement, which European Union transport ministers are set to endorse later this week despite strong U.K. objections, The Independent newspaper reports Monday. Blair is expected to urge U.S. President George W. Bush in a phone call Tuesday to back a compromise arrangement whereby U.S. airlines would only gain access to Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, once the U.S. has agreed to open up its own domestic market to foreign carriers and liberalized its rules on airline ownership and control.

The draft open skies accord, which the E.U. Transport Council will be asked to approve on Thursday, would enable any European or U.S. airline to operate transatlantic flights from Heathrow. At present, only four carriers - British Airways (BAB), Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and American Airlines - can do so. It would also open up the E.U. internal market to American carriers.

The U.K., which is facing isolation at this week’s Council meeting, wants to insert a clause into the agreement which would require the U.S. to agree to full liberalization of its market before Heathrow is opened up.