updated 3/2/2007 2:20:10 PM ET 2007-03-02T19:20:10

The U.S. and European Union have reached a tentative agreement that would give airlines greater freedom to choose trans-Atlantic routes and potentially lead to lower fares, the government announced Friday.

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Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said the agreement “will offer more choice and convenience to American consumers.”

While details of the pact were not released, it is intended to allow European airlines to fly from anywhere in the EU to any point in the U.S., and vice versa, while shedding rules that restrict how much carriers are allowed to charge fliers.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said he would ask EU nations to back the deal when EU transport ministers meet March 22. The U.S. Congress must also back the deal before the new rules would kick in Oct. 28.

“We have an opportunity to unlock major benefits on both sides of the Atlantic,” Barrot said in a statement. “In economic terms, this unprecedented agreement would represent a step change.”

Air travel in Europe and the United States accounts for 60 percent of global air traffic, and an ambitious EU-U.S. open skies deal could allow more airlines to fly the lucrative trans-Atlantic routes, possibly offering cheaper tickets.

Within five years, the deal could put an extra 26 million people on trans-Atlantic flights, the EU said. Just under 50 million travelers now make that trip every year.

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