Cheaper flights and better service should be on the way for Israeli travelers, following an agreement reached between the European Union and Israel in Tel Aviv on Thursday that will see the development of a common aviation area between the Israel and the EU.

The so-called “Open Skies” agreement is the result of eight rounds of negotiations the parties have held since December 2008. According to the European Commission, the agreement is expected to increase travel opportunities and economic benefits both for Israel and countries across Europe.

In a press release issued Thursday, Siim Kallas, EU commissioner for transport, said the agreement allows for further strengthening of economic, trade and tourist relations between Israel and the EU.

“Israel is a key partner for the EU and the agreement will do much to develop the aviation links between the two partners and establish a high level of regulatory convergence,” the statement read.

The agreement means that all airlines in the EU will be able to operate direct flights to Israel from any location in the EU, and Israeli airlines in turn will be able to fly to any EU airport.

The EU said Thursday that due to the agreement, by 2017 the market will be completely open with no limits whatsoever on the number of flights between Israel and the EU.

The agreement is expected to encourage an increase in the number of direct flights from Israel to more destinations across Europe at lower prices. In addition, prices are expected to drop for Europeans traveling to Israel.

The agreement will also require that Israeli carriers implement EU-level regulatory requirements in safety, consumer protection, air traffic management, economic regulation, competition issues and environment, among other areas.

According to European Union figures, the EU-Israel air transport market accounted for 6.75 million passengers in 2010. The EU accounts for some 57 percent of international air travel from Israel, and there are direct flight connections between Israel and 16 EU member states – Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The EU said Thursday that the agreement is part of an effort to create a wider Common Aviation Area between the EU and its neighbors. The EU has already signed such agreements with neighbors in the Balkans, Morocco, Jordan, Georgia and Moldova, and is carrying out negotiations with Ukraine, Lebanon, and soon with Azerbaijan and Tunisia.

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