Transatlantic airline operations between the United States and European Union (EU) nations are currently governed by bilateral agreements that are specific to the United States and each EU country. Since 1992, the United States has signed so-called "Open Skies" agreements with 15 of the 25 EU countries. A "nationality clause" in each agreement allows only those airlines designated by the signatory countries to participate in their transatlantic markets. In November 2002, the European Court of Justice ruled that existing Open Skies agreements were illegal under EU law, in part because their nationality clauses discriminated against airlines of other EU nations. The United States and the EU have been negotiating revisions to these agreements. Experts agree that removing the nationality clause is central to any new agreement. GAO was asked to report on (1) how prevalent Open Skies agreements are and what their effects on airlines and consumers are, (2) what the key ways that commercial aviation between the United States and the EU could be changed by the Court of Justice decision are, and (3) how the elimination of nationality clause restrictions might affect airlines and consumers. GAO's work included both analyzing data on transatlantic air service and evaluating information from and positions of industry officials, subject-matter experts, and stakeholder groups. GAO is making no recommendations.
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