* EU sets time limits on airlines leasing non-EU planes and
* United States retaliated by imposing limits on EU airlines
* EU Commission wants to negotiate liberalised leasing
* Germany, pilots fear would lead to lower social standards
By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS, March 20 The European Commission wants
to scrap restrictions placed on EU airlines leasing planes and
crew from U.S. carriers, to resolve a long-standing dispute
between the two sides.
The leasing of crewed planes from another airline - known as
wet-leasing - is a common practice in the industry and the
10-year-old EU-U.S. Open Skies aviation services agreement
envisaged a liberal regime for wet leasing.
But a dispute arose after the EU separately in 2008 imposed
a seven-month duration limit, renewable once, on European
airlines wet-leasing from non-EU carriers.
The United States retaliated by imposing similar duration
limits on EU carriers wet-leasing from other EU carriers on
their routes to and from the United States, making it hard for
European airlines to plan routes as they would not know if the
wet-leased crews and planes would have permission to fly.
The Commission is now seeking a mandate from EU member
states to negotiate an unrestricted wet-leasing agreement with
the United States - the first such agreement the EU would have -
to resolve the impasse, but that has raised fears among some
critics that airlines could use wet-leasing as a way to operate
regular services with cheaper crews.
But supporters say this is unlikely to happen as pay levels
are similar on both sides of the Atlantic and while Germany has
opposed a liberalised wet-lease regime with the United States,
most other member states are in favour.
In December the Commission proposed introducing an exception
to the duration limit on wet-leasing deals if negotiated in an
international agreement, to pave the way for a liberalisation
with the United States.
The European Cockpit Association (ECA), representing pilots,
fears that change could open up the possibility of unrestricted
wet-leasing agreements with other countries with whom the EU is
currently negotiating aviation agreements, such as Qatar, Turkey
and the countries forming the Association of Southeast Asian
Low-cost airline Norwegian Air Shuttle has faced
criticism for employing crew from Thailand, although it has made
an effort recently to employ more Europeans.
In the proposal the Commission said "other third countries
may line up in the future to seek similar derogations, but each
request would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and
exemptions should be granted only when adequately justified."
The ECA cited Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar
Airways, as saying in a negotiating round earlier this month
with the EU on an aviation agreement that Qatar would not accept
a less favourable regime on wet-leasing than those granted to
(Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Greg