Will President-elect Trump’s first act in office benefit aviation?

Speaking in Washington at the International Aviation Club on November 9 following the announcement of Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, IAG CEO Willie Walsh has urged the man who will be the 45th President of the United States to support a new UK-US Open Skies agreement.

With a new era in American politics to begin in January, there is little uncertainty surrounding the soon-to-be President Donald J. Trump for Willie Walsh. The IAG CEO spoke in Washington DC following the election results at the International Aviation Club stating the need for a new Open Skies agreement between the States and the UK. This can be attibuted to the decision made by the UK to leave the European Union in June.

The current EU-US Open Skies agreement was signed in 2007, with the second phase signed three years later. This document was key in creating a fairer playing field for carriers as it ended the exclusive right granted to just two UK and two US airlines to offer transatlantic services out of the UK’s hub airport London Heathrow. Prior to the Open Skies agreement, only British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines could offer these services.

The agreement allows any airline of the European Union and any airline of the United States to fly between any point in the EU and any point in the States, although American airlines can also fly between points in the European Union. EU airlines can also fly between the US and non-EU countries such as Switzerland.

Willie Walsh has stated he looks forward to seeing what Donald Trump does, saying: “I expect this is going to be a very exciting time for aviation.” Walsh’s idea for an Open Skies agreement between the UK and the States should follow the same type of framework as the existing EU agreement.

Walsh continued: “We would want to see a similar Open Skies agreement between the UK and other markets for [which] the EU agreement already exists. That would include obviously the United States. I believe that such an agreement would be good for all parties, whether it’s Britain, America or the EU.

“Aviation is a global industry. Anything short of an Open Skies agreement would be a massive retrograde step. Limited flying is protectionism.”

Let’s not forget that Donald Trump was, at one time, the owner of his own airline. In 1989, Trump began ‘Trump Shuttle’, following the purchase of Eastern Air Shuttle. The carrier was a high-end full service airline, operating regional services to continental destinations. The fleet consisted of 727s and Sikorsky S-61 aircraft serving from its Boston hub. Operations of the aircraft ceased in 1992.

In terms of airlines and airports, there have been question marks posed around potential policies to be put in place by Donald Trump. Without anything in place, assumptions can only be made, about what will happen to the aviation industry – will jobs and revenue be compromised?

“When I listened to Donald Trump’s victory speech I was impressed because if he is to deliver on the promises that he gave to grow employment, to strengthen the economy, aviation is going to be a key facilitator in achieving those goals.”

Willie Walsh, CEO

Airport standards may not be top of the list for the President-elect, but Trump is conscious of the current state of American airport infrastructure. Back in September, Donald Trump’s colourful use of language stated the need for renovations at some of the country’s most important airports, saying: “You land at LaGuardia, you land at (John F.) Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark, and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible – you come in from China, you see these incredible airports, and you land- we’ve become a third-world country.”

Two of the airports mentioned in Mr Trump’s criticism are in the midst of billion dollar overhauls to update their infrastructure. Los Angeles International, LAX, is in the process of updating the airport that reportedly sees terminal upgrades and runway improvements. The entire project is slated to be completed by 2023. The project to revamp New York’s LaGuardia airport will see $4 billion put into infrastructure upgrades which is due to see the last phase completed in 2021.

Should Donald Trump take Willie Walsh’s comments on board, it would relieve the uncertain tension surrounding the UK’s ‘Brexit’ vote from the summer. The vote saw the British public backing the decision to leave the EU, but fears surrounded what it would mean for the aviation industry. With no real timeframe on the implications of the vote, Willie Walsh’s ideology of creating this new Open Skies agreement makes sense.

Walsh also commented: “With Brexit, Britain needs to further develop its trading links round the world and it’s critical to do that – that we have a good relationship with the United States… It is in both countries’ interest that a UK-US agreement ensures that consumers and businesses continue to benefit from the improved competition, choice and value that has been delivered by the EU-US Open Skies agreement for almost eight years.”