Open Skies agreement begins
Cheaper air tickets and more airline choice could be on the horizon as the Open Skies pact between the EU and the US comes into effect today.
After more than four years of often tense negotiations, hopes are high that the new open skies agreement will usher in a new era of transatlantic travel.
The EU estimates that the accord could provide a major boost to transatlantic air traffic with more than 26 million extra passengers expected over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the deal is estimated to deliver benefits worth €12bn for consumers and create 80,000 new jobs in the EU and the US combined.
The pact replaces the patchwork of 21 bilateral aviation agreements that previously existed between Washington and individual European nations with a single EU-US accord.
Previously, six EU countries without such bilateral accords could not even have direct flights to the United States.
The new agreement's main innovation is that it will allow any EU carrier to fly from anywhere in the bloc to any point in the United States, and then on to a third country, and vice versa. This was previously not possible.
However, EU airlines will still not be able to operate domestic US routes, and nor will American carriers be allowed to fly between cities in the same European country.
The pact will also lift restrictions on which airlines can fly from which airport, having an important impact on lucrative transatlantic routes from London's busy Heathrow airport.
Under Britain's current bilateral aviation accord with the United States, only British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, and US carriers United Airlines and American Airlines can fly routes from Heathrow to the United States.
Airlines not previously in that exclusive club have seized on the opportunity to fly new routes out of Heathrow.
Heathrow handles 68 million passengers a year and is the world's third largest airport in terms of total passengers.
While British Airways is losing its grip on Heathrow, it is also seeking to take advantage of the pact by launching a new subsidiary named OpenSkies to fly from continental Europe to the United States.