By: Robert W. Thomas
U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo
If you are looking to travel to the United States, you have probably noticed that prices for airline tickets have risen a lot in the last few months. We all know the usual culprits for this phenomenon: rising demand, rising fuel costs, and continuing economic disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is one explanation that you may not have come across: a lack of competition. Travel is more expensive here because the Dominican Republic still does not have a modern “Open Skies” aviation agreement with the United States. This means fewer choices for travelers and limits on competition among the airlines cost you more every time you buy an airline ticket.
The United States seeks to have open aviation relationships with its partners, and whenever possible, establishes pro-competitive agreements that allow air carriers to offer a variety of services tailored to meet the needs of their passengers without restrictions on numbers of flights or destinations. Under an Open Skies agreement, airlines can provide more affordable, convenient, and efficient air services to consumers by minimizing limitations on airline decisions about routes, number of flights, and inter-airline partnerships. These modern aviation agreements are pro-consumer, pro-competition, and pro-growth arrangements which allow more international passenger and cargo flights between our two countries.
With an Open Skies agreement in place with the United States, Dominican airlines would no longer have restrictions on where they can fly to in the United States, and the Dominican travelers could enjoy new flight options, lower fares, and better service among more airlines in the market. This flexibility would allow airlines to respond better to the market and serve destinations that travelers demand. Dominican travelers could fly non-stop to more U.S. destinations beyond the typical New York and Florida routes, including less known U.S. cities that also are home to large Dominican communities. Likewise, U.S. travelers could benefit from more non-stop options to the Dominican Republic rather than worrying about time-consuming connections at other airports and spend more time with family and enjoy the beauty of this country – and boost tourism revenues here in the Dominican Republic.
Since 1992, the United States has concluded Open Skies agreements with more than 130 partners, including small and large countries such as The Bahamas, Curacao, India, Japan, and Spain to name a few. Likewise, the Dominican Republic has signed similar aviation agreements with Panama, Brazil, and the Netherlands. These agreements provide countless benefits. They spur high-quality job creation and economic growth as well as promote increased travel and trade. According to a 2016 study from the Brookings Institution, Open Skies agreements have generated $4 billion in annual gains to travelers and a 15 percent average drop in fares. It is high time that the Dominican people enjoy the same benefits, which can be delivered through a modern aviation agreement with the United States. The time has come for our countries to finalize such an agreement.
After being stalled for several years, we may now have an opportunity to conclude an Open Skies agreement. President Abinader has publicly announced his commitment to finalizing negotiations and has demonstrated his willingness to open the aviation sector to competition, even in the face of vested interests. An innovative new national airline has announced its plans to launch new, low-cost services to a range of U.S. destinations – contingent, it says, on the conclusion of an Open Skies agreement between our two countries—a service the United States would welcome as a positive outcome of Open Skies.
In this 30th year of the U.S. Open Skies policy, the United States stands ready to partner with the Abinader administration to conclude a modern Open Skies agreement with the Dominican Republic. This agreement will bring more flights with more options, to more cities, at cheaper prices. More affordable visits to friends and family, and long-term growth in tourism options for visitors here – a win for all travelers.