VILNIUS - Lithuania and Latvia's transport ministers have agreed to liberalize their markets for charter flights starting Jan. 1, 2006.
Petras Cesna, Lithuania's transport minister, said the Baltic Council of Ministers' transport committee, on his initiative, recently discussed the prospects of liberalizing the market for charter flights to third countries in the European Union.
The minister pointed out that Lietuvos Avialinijos (Lithuanian Airlines) was entitled to take up any route and enter the air transport market in any European Union country without discrimination.
In April, however, LAL sealed a contract for charter flights for Vilnius-Varna-Riga. The Civil Aviation Administration of Bulgaria issued all required permits, but Latvia's department refused.
By opening their markets, Lithuanian carriers would be able to fly from Riga to other destinations, Cesna said.
Currently Latvia's airBaltic flies from Vilnius.
Lithuanian Airlines was privatized in the summer, and no doubt the new owners are keen to acquire as many route options as possible.
The EU had a liberal approach toward neighboring countries as far as air transport policy is concerned, Cesna explained, adding that any discrimination related to the issue of permits must be avoided.
"Lithuania believes that the charter flight market should be regulated following the EU guidelines concerning the air transport with neighboring countries," Cesna said.
Lithuania and Estonia's cooperation in this sector was smooth and based on good will, he added, explaining that Estonia's civil aviation department granted Lithuanian carriers the permits for direct flights from Tallinn to several destinations in Turkey without reservations.
So far, Lithuania has granted flight permits for air companies from Bulgaria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and other countries. Competition has led to a decline in travel prices and raised demand for more charter flights, Cesna said.