The United States and Canada, after years of expanding trade, agreed Friday to open up their skies under a broad new aviation accord that for the first time will allow their airlines to fly freely to and from any points between the two countries.
The pact, which was the centerpiece of President Clinton’s second and final day in Ottawa, is expected to expand significantly passenger and cargo services, generate even more business exchanges between the two countries and lead to lower fares.
“The only bad news is for those of you with frequent-flier accounts,” the president told a breakfast of business leaders. “It means you’ll earn fewer miles because it will be so much easier and quicker to get back and forth.”
After many tries, the two countries finally phased out a restrictive agreement that has governed air service for nearly three decades. The new pact, believed to be unique in the world, lets market demand, not government regulation, determine the number and destination of flights between the countries.
Normally, governments spend months and years negotiating specific airline routes on a strictly reciprocal basis. Now this laborious process has been eliminated by Canada and the United States.
Consumers will benefit not only from lower fares but a halving of travel time on many routes.
The accord, which is effective immediately, was signed in the ornate Reading Room of the House of Commons by U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena and Canadian Transport Minister Douglas Young, with Clinton and Prime Minister Jean Chretien looking on.
The meeting, in which the leaders discussed global economic and political issues as well as a host of bilateral issues, went unusually smoothly, aides to both said.
This was Clinton’s first official visit to Canada, and Chretien has not yet been to Washington. The coolness of the relationship to date largely reflected Chretien’s desire to distance himself from his predecessor, Brian Mulroney, who prided himself on his closeness to both President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush. But it also reflected Clinton’s preoccupation with his own domestic agenda.
Chretien jokingly conceded in a joint news conference that he is now on a first name basis with the president. “When we’re alone, I don’t call him William J.,” the prime minister said. “I call him Bill.”
Clinton said he would be “honored” to put bait on Chretien’s fishing pole, a reference to Chretien’s often-quoted comment that he never liked to go fishing with U.S. presidents, as Mulroney had done frequently, because “you end up looking like the fish.”