"This agreement will bring more competition and cheaper flights," he said.

Consumer benefits

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.
  
"More competition will bring better service, lower fares, more destinations and more frequencies"

Glen Hauenstein, Delta executive
vice president
It is also said that it will deliver benefits worth an estimated 12 billion euros ($19bn) for consumers and create 80,000 new jobs in the European Union and the United States.

Glen Hauenstein, the executive vice president of US-based Delta, said: "The US-EU open skies agreement is a win for consumers because more carriers will be able to compete in more markets.

"More competition will bring better service, lower fares, more destinations and more frequencies."

However, John Warrington, an independent travel agent, told Al Jazeera that airlines were going to be very careful as to how they implement the agreement.

"With oil prices at a high and many other cost issues, they simply will not just plan out new routes," he said.

"I really do not see the need for new flight routes to be introduced, and this decision can cause a sense of confusion."

'Full liberalisation'

However, European 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.

Europe wants to improve the deal with the US to allow EU-based carriers more traffic and investment rights in the United States, Barrot said.

He said that he hopes new EU-US negotiations, which are scheduled in May, will achieve "full liberalisation" of the airline sector in Europe and the US, notably allowing European-based airlines the right to take over US-based carriers.

Washington has opposed such foreign ownership of its airlines in the past and blocked a move to include such investment rules in the "Open Skies" pact.

"In the long term we want to achieve a completely Open Skies agreement," Barrot said.

"It will aim at achieving full liberalisation in traffic rights, new possibilities for investment by European companies in the US and for American companies in Europe."

He warned that if "no substantial progress" is made in those negotiations by November, 2010, the EU could suspend some rights given to US airlines under the agreement.