Much has been written and debated in recent years about Open Skies, which, its proponents claim, benefit competition among airlines and bring more options and offers to the traveler. As a communications agency specialized in the aviation and tourism field, at Sergat we work with several clients – top-ranked airlines – who strongly advocate open skies, especially in those markets where competition between companies is fierce, as is the case by example with transatlantic routes.
In this context, the so-called fifth freedom also comes into play. Fifth freedom services are flights on routes operated by an airline whose base is not in the country of origin of these flights. Subject to approval by the competent authorities, fifth freedom flight rights can be given to a carrier on the condition that the flight starts or ends in the carrier's home country.
It is easier to explain this with a fictitious example: the company WingsOfContinent is based, for example, in Nairobi, Kenya. WingsOfContinent operates daily flights to Madrid. At one point, based on an analysis of market demand, it decides to apply for the fifth freedom rights to operate the route between Madrid and New Orleans in the USA and transport passengers on this route. Passengers who have boarded in both Nairobi and Madrid. If they were to obtain the rights, the flight would start in Nairobi, with a stopover in Madrid, and end in New Orleans. And vice versa, but always originating and ending in Nairobi.
It is clear that the request by a company is viewed with much suspicion by others operating the same or similar routes. Why? Because it implies more competition – it may even generate a new demand that may benefit the requesting company – and in many cases at lower fares. Open Skies advocates, and we believe rightly so, claim that it favors the consumer. It is about free competition that in itself is positive for passengers as long as the criteria and conditions are the same for everyone.
Especially in Europe, some companies, sectors and unions do not consider it so positive. You also have to understand their point of view. For example, some of the companies that are strongly committed to free competition, to Open Skies, and actively seeking fifth freedom rights are based in countries or areas of the world with far fewer restrictions than we have in Europe. As an example: Europe basically “closes” at night, with limited operating hours, while in these other regions, companies can operate 24 hours a day, which allows for much more flexibility and offers numerous growth options.