About The Issue

What Are Open Skies Agreements?

They are agreements between the United States and other countries that create open, competitive markets for international air travel. They enable airlines, not governments, to make decisions about routes, capacity, frequency, and pricing of their services, based on market demand. Open Skies agreements promote competition in the aviation sector, increase choice, and reduce costs for consumers while also facilitating exports for U.S. businesses and enhancing U.S. national security. Since 1992 the United States has entered into more than 100 Open Skies agreements with countries ranging from Germany and Singapore to Chile and Uganda. For a full list of the United States’ Open Skies agreements, click here.

Why Are They Important?

More than 100 U.S. Open Skies agreements have brought millions of new international visitors to the United States, supporting more than 15 million U.S. tourism and hospitality jobs. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 75 million international visitors spent nearly $250 billion in the United States in 2016 alone, benefiting a wide array of travel-related businesses such as hotels, rental car companies, restaurants, and retailers. In fact, adding one daily wide-body flight carrying predominantly foreign-originating tourists can result in $65 million in direct spending, $117 million in U.S. GDP growth, and more than 1,150 U.S. jobs.

Open Skies agreements save passengers $4 billion on U.S.-international routes annually and have created more choices by expanding domestic airline routes. Furthermore, the United States’ network of Open Skies agreements has bolstered U.S. national security by enabling carriers to transport U.S. military equipment and troops to and from hot zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why Do They Need To Be Protected?

Despite the multitude of tangible benefits Open Skies bring to America, the legacy carriers – American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines – would like to get rid of certain agreements to protect their market share. Specifically, they are targeting U.S. Open Skies agreements with two Gulf states, the UAE and Qatar. This is extremely worrisome as any agreement lost would likely increase prices for consumers, limit flight options, and ultimately hurt the American economy.

Many U.S. airlines do not support the legacy carriers’ demands. USAOS member companies, as well as other U.S. passenger and cargo carriers not aligned with the legacy carriers, collectively employ nearly 3.5 times the number of workers employed by the legacy carriers. In addition, Gulf carriers and other foreign airlines not aligned with the legacy carriers bring thousands of passengers to the United States, creating demand for connecting flights on smaller U.S. airlines. These additional passengers enable smaller airlines to expand their domestic services, creating more competition, lowering prices for consumers, and supporting job growth.

Where Do These Agreements Stand Now?

The Trump Administration is continuing the policies of previous administrations by seeking out new Open Skies agreements, including a recent one with Brazil. Regarding the effort by the legacy carriers to reopen our agreements with Gulf states, in 2018 the State Department announced it would uphold the U.S. Open Skies agreements with Qatar and the UAE. These resolutions put an end to the years-long effort by the legacy carriers to limit access to the U.S. for Gulf carriers. The rights enjoyed by U.S., UAE, and Qatar airlines under the respective Open Skies agreements were not impacted in any way, including the right to provide service between the parties with intermediate stops, known as Fifth Freedom service.

H.R. 3632, the “Fair and Open Skies Act”

There is nothing fair or open about the “The Fair and Open Skies Act [H.R. 3632].” If enacted, the bill would violate the U.S.-EU Open Skies agreement and invite retaliation on the U.S. commercial and cargo aviation industries by our international Open Skies partners, with consumers and U.S. businesses shouldering the greatest consequences. At its core, this effort is harmful to our economy and anticompetitive. H.R. 3632 will only drive up prices for the flying public, and harm the cargo air and logistics networks that provide just-in-time shipments to individual consumers and that are pivotal to businesses of all sizes nationwide.

Adding conditions to a trade agreement – Open Skies – is likely to ignite the unraveling of a long-established and trusted aviation alliance with the E.U. – one of the nation’s most strategic, and strongest international aviation partners.

  • H.R. 3632 threatens the Open Skies framework that has benefited consumers, aviation professionals and our economy for more than a quarter-century. Moreover, this issue was never contemplated in, nor allowed by, the original Open Skies agreements.
  • The U.S. has Open Skies agreements with 126 countries. This bipartisan policy success has been advanced and supported by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

In July 2019, EU DG MOVE Henrick Hololei stated in a speech to the International Aviation Club in Washington, DC, “I sincerely hope that all parties honour and value our [Air Transport] Agreement and if need be we will use all legal means to defend ATA.” This was not the first warning from Hololei.

  • The so-called “Fair and Open Skies Act” would violate U.S. treaty obligations at the expense of U.S. airlines both passenger and cargo, U.S. jobs, U.S. consumers, and the global commercial aviation industry generally.
  • U.S. carriers depend on the freedoms in Open Skies agreements to serve foreign markets, support global supply chains and extend their global reach.
  • Open Skies generate $4 billion in annual economic gains to consumers.
  • Full liberalization of global commercial aviation would support 9 million jobs in aviation and related industries.
  • Consumers benefit from Open Skies agreements and air services provided in a competitive marketplace.

In 2018, the DC Circuit found these agreements “promote competition” and that “a service authorized by a bilateral agreement is in the public interest.”

  • These gains would all be threatened by the passage of this provision, a primary reason why the Trump Administration strongly opposed a similar provision last year, and why the Obama administration found no “flag of convenience” claim by the pilots’ union to reject Norwegian Air’s permit.

Open Skies & the Response to COVID-19

Open Skies agreements are playing a critical role in America’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Without these agreements already in place, airlines – particularly all-cargo carriers – would not have the flexibility that they need to move critical medicine, supplies, and consumer goods around the world to where they are most needed.

      • Pharmaceuticals– to this point in the crisis, Americans have not experienced COVID-19-related shortages of necessary drugs, from fever-reducing drugs like acetaminophen to drugs like insulin that many Americans depend on each day.  Open Skies agreements allow cargo carriers to quickly ship these vital drugs from their country of manufacture to the United States without delay.
      • Medical Supplies – from the beginning of the crisis, Open Skies agreements have allowed all-cargo carriers to shift capacity to where it is most needed without renegotiating overflight and landing rights in each instance.  As COVID-19 moves across the globe, cargo airlines are able to meet changing demand on a day-to-day basis.

For instance, cargo carriers are partnering with health care companies to expedite shipments of necessary supplies to designated testing facilities increase COVID-19 detection capacity.

      • Household Delivery of Critical Supplies & Household Goods – as Americans are practicing social distancing and avoiding trips to public places like grocery stores, the ability to deliver supplies and household goods directly to doorsteps is playing a critical role in minimizing personal contacts.  The global logistics network that enables the fast, efficient, and inexpensive delivery of goods to Americans’ homes is built on Open Skies agreements.

International air cargo, whose networks are predicated on America’s 130 Open Skies agreements, is one of the fastest and safest means of moving important goods around the globe while minimizing the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.  As this crisis evolves, Open Skies agreements are essential to the ability of governments, health care providers, and everyday citizens to respond to changing conditions throughout the country.

Just The Facts

Economic Benefits Of Open Skies Agreements

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Passengers save approximately $4 billion annually on U.S.-international routes thanks to Open Skies agreements.
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Full air liberalization would lead to a 16 percent increase in air traffic, and support an additional 9 million aviation and industry related jobs.
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In 2016, the Gulf carriers alone brought 1,700,000 international visitors to the United States, who spent nearly $7.8 billion and supported nearly 80,000 additional U.S. jobs.

National Security Benefits Of Open Skies Agreements

Open Skies allows U.S. airlines to maintain global delivery networks to transport troops and vital supplies for the U.S. military. Since 1991, commercial carriers have transported almost 40% of the equipment, supplies and food to support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf and more than 90% of U.S. forces to and from Iraq.

  • FedEx operates a Memphis to Dubai flight four days per week, which the Department of Defense (DOD) used to transport within 48 hours much needed cargo during the peak of the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.
  • Atlas Air Worldwide transports foods and critical life-supporting items like blood and blood products to support ongoing military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

U.S. Airline Benefits Of Open Skies Agreement

Open Skies agreements enable U.S. airlines to grow. Foreign airlines bring thousands of passengers to the United States, creating demand for connecting flights for smaller U.S. airlines. Collectively, USAOS transports approximately 54 million passengers annually, ships nearly 8 million tons of cargo, and employs approximately 1,345,000.

  • Under U.S. open skies agreements U.S. carriers have been able to establish new routes:
    • JetBlue Airways now provides service under Open Skies agreements with Colombia and Jamaica
    • JetBlue Airways also was able to initiate service between Boston and Detroit, a route that was previously served by only one carrier, due to the number of international passengers arriving in Boston thanks to Open Skies.

Learn More


Recent News


USAOS Letter To Secretary Ross

February 28, 2017 The Honorable Wilbur Ross Secretary of Commerce U.S. Department of Commerce 1401 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20230 download PDF [...]

Who We Are

U.S. Airlines for Open Skies (USAOS) is a coalition of four U.S. passenger and cargo carriers – Atlas Air Worldwide, FedEx, JetBlue Airways, and Cargo Airline Association – in support of the United States’ Open Skies agreements, which promote U.S. jobs and economic growth. Collectively, USAOS members transport approximately 54 million passengers annually, ship nearly 8 million tons of cargo, and employ approximately 1,345,000 people.

Cargo Airline Association