A top State Department official today called on nations around the world to consider a regional approach to negotiating air services agreements.
In an address to an international aviation symposium sponsored by the State Department, James R. Atwood, deputy assistant secretary of State for transportation affairs, said that profound worldwide political and economic policy differences made a single, worldwide, multilateral regime unrealistic in the near future.
But as a step forward, he urged the foreign government and airline representatives in attendance here to consider some regional agreements as a partial replacement for the patchwork of bilateral agreements that now serve as the standard means for exchanging economic rights in international aviation.
With a regional approach, joint steps by groups of countries toward liberal pricing and route arrangements will be easier for each to take than individual steps would be, Atwood suggested, since no individual bilateral markets within a region would be isolated havens for restrictions.
"All sides can be assured of obtaining important commercial rights for its airlines as it is granting them to others, and meanwhile, the public will benefit from new possibilities for competition," Atwood said.
The United States would be prepared to consider liberal aviation agreements between itself and groups of foreign states, he said.
"For our part, the United States is fully prepared to trade opportunities for opportunities in the international aviation sector," he said. "If an offered package is sufficiently attractive to us, we will work very hard to respond with an attractive quid pro."
Atwood hinted in his speech that the U.S. might be prepared to consider granting foreign airlines the right to add some local U.S. cities to their international routes to make them more efficient and more profitable.
He acknowledged that the political obstacles would be very serious, and such a plan would require a change in U.S. law, which now reserves U.S. domestic routes to domestic carries.
Atwood also urged the nations of a region to consider banding together to simulate among themselves the kind of domestic aviation union that exists in the U.S. Noting that the U.S. is roughly equal to Europe in terms of geographic size and is similar in other respects, Atwood suggested to U.S air system would not be as good as it is, if it had been governed by a network of bilateral agreements, as is Europe.
Although delegates echoed the "political difficulties" Atwood admitted were inherent in moving from bilateralism toward regional groupings, they appeared interested.
"I wouldn't expect any fast progress... but that shouldn't prevent us from pursuing the idea." Werner Guldiman, director of the federal air office of Switzerland, said.
Representatives of more than 25 nations, 50 world airlines, and scores of financial, aircraft and related activities have come to Kingston for three days of discussions of the recently changed U.S. international aviation policy and is implications for the rest of the world.
In another presentation Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.), chairman of the Commerce Committee and a major sponsor of the domestic airline deregulation act, warned participants not to believe a "rumor" that the United States would revert to a more protectionist air policy after the Carter administration is over.
"I believe our competitive goals are here to stay," he told them, "and I plan to do my part to see that the U.S. policy of seeking less restrictive, competitive opportunities from our bilateral partners is formalized."