United States Airports for Better International Air Service or “USA-BIAS” is a coalition formed in 1989 to support the primary goal of increased international air service to and from the communities where member airports are located. The coalition’s founding premise is that international air service supports economic development, and as such, is critical to each member’s continued economic prosperity in a global market.
USA-BIAS economic concerns led the U. S. Department of Transportation to create the Cities Program in 1990, and then to pursue “open skies” agreements as a basic United States objective. Secretary of Transportation, Jeffrey Shane, in a recent speech noted that the creation of USA-BIAS had made it possible for the United States to establish its Open Skies Policy in 1992 – a doctrine that has now become almost the default approach to international aviation in most parts of the world.
USA-BIAS members represent communities geographically spread throughout the United States. They operate some of the largest public airports in the world and today they collectively board one out of every four air travelers in the United States, but less than one in every six of the nation’s international travelers.
USA-BIAS members working with Canadian cities in the early 1990’s provided the impetus for the replacement of a restricted bilateral with an Open Skies agreement – a goal pursued for 4-½ years. That U.S./Canadian bilateral probably was the first ever negotiated in response to the economic needs of cities.
Today, a whole new generation of aircraft is coming into operation sized to serve markets created by the economic growth under liberalized air service agreements – aircraft such as over-water versions of the Airbus and Boeing domestic twin jets, as well as the existing Boeing 777, Airbus A330/340 and the new Boeing 787 and proposed A350. But at present some bilateral agreements still frustrate the use of these new aircraft and the benefits they can bring by making more direct service available to more cities.
Economic growth stimulated by USA-BIAS initiatives is substantial. As a result of the Cities Program, by 1993 nine member cities had gained services to seventeen new international destinations and those services collectively added $3.8 billion a year in new economic activity and an estimated 83,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.
US-Canadian “open skies” was predicted to stimulate $15 billion in new economic activity and 290,000 new jobs for the two countries as new services progressively eliminated the travel barriers that had grown up between the two countries. The three year phase-in towards “open skies” ended in February 1998. “Never before in the history of aviation has such growth been seen” – growth that “exceeded the expectations of even the most visionary prophet,” noted Honorable Mortimer L. Downey, then Deputy Secretary, USDOT at the end of the phase-in period.
Research published in 2000 by George Mason University in the United States and Monash University in Australia showed that:
a) U.S. cities gain substantial new employment following the inauguration of a new transatlantic service;
b) The employment gain developed after the new service was established, i.e. the service did not result from the employment gain – the service stimulated the gain.
The most recent USA-BIAS focus has been upon creation of a “Clear Skies” agreement between the United States and the European Union. Individual bilaterals between the United States and individual EU member countries have been replaced by a single new agreement with the EU, thus creating an open route designation and removing many of the barriers to service that cities face today. Consequently, such an agreement will help United States cities gain nonstop service to major European markets and vice versa. USA-BIAS members also are active in support of all new agreements that can make international air service more available to its members, including Phase 2 of the US-EU agreement and rationalization of the ownership and control issue with appropriate safeguards for all stakeholders.
Looking to the future, USA-BIAS will continue to move the economic needs of the airport communities to the forefront of the policy makers. While it can appear that our needs now are considered, political leaders do change and USA-BIAS members need to be diligent in their efforts to educate new Administrations on the importance of balancing community needs with airline needs. John Byerly, former US chief negotiator at the Department of State met several times with our members and has encouraged our continued work with DOS open-skies initiatives.
Contact for information is USA-BIAS Secretariat at (703) 572-8714.