Singapore has been lobbying Australia for nearly two years for a full open skies agreement which would give Singapore Airlines access to the lucrative Australia-Los Angeles route.

 

"I'm optimistic, I'm hopeful," Yeo said on Tuesday, before his trip to Australia to meet Australian Transport Minister John Anderson next week.

 

"Let's have a road map. It doesn't have to be one mighty leap ... hopefully not five years; I would prefer two years down the road."

Open Skies Agreements create a freer market for aviation services.

Bilateral Open Skies Agreements give the airlines of both countries the right to operate air services from any point in one country to any point in the other, as well as to and from third countries.

These rights enable airlines to network using strategic points across the globe.

Unrestricted rights 

 

The two nations signed an agreement in 2003 that expanded bilateral air links, giving Australian national carrier Qantas unrestricted rights to Singapore as a base for its global operations.

 

"The playing field has actually been very, very tilted in favour of Qantas"

Yeo Cheow Tong,
Singapore transport minister

Singapore Airlines was denied reciprocal rights to fly from Australia to the United States, as Canberra sought to protect Qantas from competition on one of its most profitable routes.

 

The Australian government cited the poor state of the local aviation industry after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US as a reason for holding back on full liberalisation.

 

Singapore's Transport Ministry, which released Yeo's comments made in an interview with the Straits Times newspaper, confirmed Yeo would meet with Anderson in Australia next week.

 

Official talks

 

Yeo said next week's negotiations, the first official talks on the issue since the 2003 deal, was a step forward in correcting a situation that was very much in Qantas' favour.

 

He said Qantas enjoyed substantial "fifth freedom air rights" in Singapore, with more than half its flights into Changi airport flying on to other destinations.

 

Singapore Airlines has access to only fly on to New Zealand from Australia, he said, dismissing claims by Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon that the Australian carrier competes on a level playing field.

 

"The playing field has actually been very, very tilted in favour of Qantas ... I mean it's such a steep slope that it is incredible," Yeo said.