By Ray Jaworowski, Senior Aerospace Analyst, Forecast International.
Full implementation of the Open Skies policy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been delayed as two of the association’s 10 member nations have not yet ratified the arrangement. Plans had called for Open Skies to be implemented by the end of 2015, but Indonesia and the Philippines have yet to approve the scheme. The two countries are the largest nations, by population, in ASEAN.
Also known as the ASEAN Single Aviation Market (ASEAN-SAM), Open Skies aims to develop a unified aviation market among the nations that make up the ASEAN membership. This involves the liberalization of flight restrictions on carriers, allowing airlines from the 10 member states to fly freely from their home country to any city within the association.
The 10 members of ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. All but Indonesia and the Philippines are fully on board Open Skies. So far, Indonesia has removed restrictions on carriers only at Jakarta, the country’s capital. The Philippines has taken the opposite tack, removing restrictions from all cities except Manila, its capital.
Open Skies is a key component of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which came into effect on January 1, 2016. The AEC is intended to transform ASEAN into a region characterized by the free movement of goods, services, labor, and investment capital, thus providing a boost to economic growth. By removing restrictions on the ability of airlines to operate from one ASEAN country to another, Open Skies is critical to the long-term economic development of the region. It will result in increased competition among airlines in the region, thus providing air passengers and freight customers with a wider range of transport options and lower prices. Flight frequency will increase, and connectivity between the region’s aviation markets will be enhanced. This will provide a boost to tourism as well as better economic integration among the ASEAN nations.
Meanwhile, ASEAN and the European Union have been discussing a bloc-to-bloc Open Skies agreement, which would be world’s first-ever such agreement. However, ASEAN’s own Open Skies arrangement will likely have to achieve full implementation prior to an ASEAN-EU deal coming into effect.
Important as it is, ASEAN Open Skies may ultimately prove to be just the initial step in the effort to develop the full potential of the region’s air travel market. Future actions could involve the further removal of operating restrictions on carriers, changes in airline ownership policies, formation of a region-wide regulatory agency (similar to the European Aviation Safety Agency), and establishment of an integrated air traffic management system.