Unlimited flying between Southeast Asia and Europe will become possible following the conclusion of negotiations on the world’s first bloc-to-bloc comprehensive air transport agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU).

The parties now will submit the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (AE CATA) for legal scrubbing in preparation for signature at a later date to be confirmed.

Under the agreement, airlines of ASEAN and the EU will be allowed to fly any number of passenger and cargo services between and beyond both regions. In addition, they will also be able to fly up to 14 weekly passenger services, and any number of cargo services, via and beyond to any third country, the parties announced in a joint statement following the conclusion of a meeting on June 4, 2021.

They said the accord was aimed at rebuilding air connectivity between ASEAN and Europe, which has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and open up new growth opportunities for the aviation sectors in both regions. Both parties expressed the intent to maintain close discussions and coordination to minimise disruptions to air services caused by the pandemic.

“The pace-setting agreement reflects the latest policy thinking in air transport regulation, including robust fair competition provisions and doing-business issues. More importantly, the AE CATA provides a foundation for closer cooperation between ASEAN and the EU in areas such as aviation safety, air traffic management, consumer protection, and environmental, and social matters. This deeper cooperation builds upon existing initiatives such as the Enhanced ASEAN Regional Integration Support from the EU (ARISE Plus) programme on technical assistance and capacity building; the EU-South East Asia on Cooperation on Mitigating Climate Change impact from Civil Aviation: Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (EU-SEA CCCA CORSIA), which supports CORSIA implementation; and the EU-South East Asia Aviation Partnership Project (EU- SEA APP),” the statement read.

ASEAN Secretary-General, Dato Lim Jock Hoi, said: “With USD10.5 billion of foreign direct investment inflows and USD226.2 billion of trade in goods in 2020, the EU is already the third-largest source of investment and the third-largest trading partner for ASEAN. The AE CATA would significantly strengthen air connectivity between ASEAN and Europe and bring both regions even closer together. This would allow them to reap further economic benefits.”

“The conclusion of this first-ever ‘bloc-to-bloc’ air transport agreement marks an important milestone in the EU’s external aviation policy,” added European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean. “It provides essential guarantees of fair competition for our European airlines and industry while strengthening reciprocal prospects for trade and investment in some of the world’s most dynamic markets."

"Importantly, this new agreement also provides us with a solid platform to continue promoting high standards on safety, security, air traffic management, environment, and social matters going forward. I am grateful for the constructive approach of all parties involved, which made this historic deal possible,” she concluded.

Before the pandemic, the EU's 27 member states counted more than 100 scheduled airlines, a network of over 400 airports, and 60 air navigation service providers.

ASEAN has 37 member states with at least 75 scheduled carriers amongst them, including major carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, and Philippine Airlines.

Both sides' member states will also have to ratify the agreement before it can be made effective.