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Mobility and Transport

External Aviation Policy

Why an EU external aviation policy?

The so-called “open skies” judgments of 5 November 2002 of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) marked the start of an EU external aviation policy. This case law has clarified the distribution of powers between the EU and its Member States in the field of the regulation of international air services. Whereas, traditionally, international air services have always been governed by bilateral agreements between states, the 2002 judgments heralded the arrival on the scene of the EU, a new important player with certain exclusive competences in external aviation relations.

From a legal point of view, the "open skies" judgments meant that EU Member States could no longer act in isolation when negotiating international air services agreements. International air services negotiations are now carried out in close cooperation and coordination between the European Commission and EU Member States.

The 2015 Aviation Strategy

As part of the Juncker Commission's 2015 Work Programme, the Commission has presented an Aviation Strategy on 7 December 2015with the aim of bolstering the competitiveness of the European aviation sector. This strategy proposes a series of measures including some related to a further development of the EU's external aviation policy .

The 2012 Communication

In 2012, the Commission launched a review of the EU external aviation policy (Communication "The EU's External Aviation Policy – Addressing Future Challenges") aimed at addressing the challenges facing the EU aviation sector in the domain of external relations. In 2012 the EU Council (Transport and Telecommunications Council) adopted its conclusions setting out an ambitious and robust EU external aviation policy framework for the coming years to tackle the future challenges of the European aviation industry.

The 2005 roadmap

EU external aviation policy was defined in 2005 in a Road Map developed by the Council and the European Commission. The Road Map was based on three pillars:

(1) Bringing existing bilateral air services agreements between EU Member States and third countries in line with EU law – Horizontal Agreements . This implies the amendment of some 1,500 bilateral agreements of the Member States with third countries in order to have the "EU nature" of our carriers recognized. Member States must allow any "EU carrier" to fly from their country to a third country. The joint effort of the Commission and Member States has already made possible to bring into conformity more than 1000 bilateral agreements with 122 countries. Among them, Horizontal Agreements have been negotiated with some 50 countries, which have amended all the bilateral agreements between a given third country and all EU Member States with which that country has bilateral agreements.

(2) The creation of a true Common Aviation Area with the EU's neighbouring countries .

(3) The conclusion of aviation agreements with key strategic partners - Comprehensive agreements with global partners .

EU external aviation policy means moving towards greater flexibility, openness and consistency, based on both bilateral (EU Member States/third countries) and multilateral actions (EU / third countries), and aimed at:

  • Creating new economic opportunities by opening up markets and promoting investment opportunities as far as possible, not only for the users but also for the operators. Market access would serve as a catalyst for innovation, thereby benefiting the sector as a whole;
  • Promoting regulatory convergence, be it with regard to the economic conditions governing the operation of the markets (implementation of competition rules, State aid rules or standards more specifically linked to aviation such as reservation systems, ground handling, etc.) or to social, environmental, security and safety reliability.

By acting with a single voice, the EU is best placed to counter the negative effects on the environment of the growth of the aviation sector, and notably also in terms of climate change.



Regulation (EC) No 847/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the negotiation and implementation of air service agreements between Member States and third countries

Policy and other related documents

Council conclusions on the EU's External Aviation Policy - Addressing Future Challenges (20 December 2012)

Communication from the Commission "The EU's External Aviation Policy - Addressing Future Challenges" (COM(2012)556)

External Aviation Maps - European neighbourhood and key partners

Communication from the Commission "Developing the agenda for the Community's external aviation policy" (COM(2005)79)

Annex to the Communication from the Commission ”Developing the agenda for the Community’s external aviation policy” SEC(2005)336

Summaries of legislation

Developing the agenda for the Community's external aviation policy

Press room

Transport: EU adopts ambitious external aviation policy on 20 December 2012 (MEMO/12/1016)

Judgements of the Court of Justice

Cases C-466/98, C-467/98, C-468/98, C-469/98, C-471/98, C-472/98, C-475/98, C-476/98 [“open skies” judgments of 5 November 2002 of the Court of Justice of the European Union – CJEU], available at


White paper on the European transport policy