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updated 3/25/2010 4:59:17 PM ET 2010-03-25T20:59:17

An aviation agreement that allows airlines to operate flights more freely between the U.S. and Europe is being expanded to include more cooperation between the countries on security and ease of travel.

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The Department of Transportation said Thursday the U.S. and European Union agreed that the terms of the 2007 pact should remain in place indefinitely.

The new agreement expands U.S.-EU cooperation on safety and competition, provides greater protections for U.S. carriers from local restrictions on night flights at European airports, and includes an article on the importance of high labor standards in the airline industry.

The expanded cooperation on security calls for the U.S. and the EU, when possible, to rely on each other's security measures to a greater degree to reduce unnecessary duplication. The security efforts will include regular consultations on changes in existing requirements, coordination of airport assessment activities, air carrier inspections where possible and exchange of information on new security technologies and procedures.

DOT did not immediately provide details of the night flights issue, though shipping giant UPS said it will benefit because the measure helps ensure that night flight restrictions at European airports are more consistent. Under the agreement, the policies between airports can't be arbitrary and must be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis, UPS spokesman Norman Black said.

As for the labor issue, according to documents released by the DOT, the U.S. delegation noted that labor groups in this country have benefited by having a single representative for a work group at an airline. That principle has helped promote rights for both airline flight and ground workers to organize themselves and to negotiate and enforce contract agreements.

Slideshow: Cartoons: Danger in the air Some workers at British Airways are currently on strike and workers of at least two other European carriers have threatened a walkout. In the U.S., the Railway Labor Act limits the ability of unionized airline workers to strike.

The new agreement contains no commitment to change existing statutes that limit foreign ownership in U.S. carriers and bar foreign control of U.S. carriers, DOT spokesman Bill Mosley said.

Foreign ownership in a U.S. air carrier is limited to 25 percent of the voting interest in the carrier.

Besides giving airlines greater access to serve other countries, open skies agreements also are a necessary step to allow U.S. and foreign carriers to form their own pacts to share costs and revenue and coordinate flight schedules.

For example, Delta Air Lines and Air France-KLM have a joint venture on trans-Atlantic flights.

Slideshow: Awful airlines An open skies agreement between the U.S. and Japan reached in December seeks to relax flights between the two countries. Already, American Airlines has signaled that it wants to cooperate more closely with partner Japan Airlines.

A joint venture allows airlines to share costs and revenue on certain flights regardless of which airline owns or flies the aircraft. It differs from a codesharing agreement where one airline bears all the costs but another airline might get a share of the revenue for booking a customer on a flight.

The DOT said the new U.S.-EU agreement was concluded after eight rounds of talks, the most recent of which included three days of talks in Brussels.

A trade group for U.S. carriers hailed the expanded open skies agreement, while a trade group for international airlines said it was disappointed there wasn't significant progress on the foreign ownership issue.

The original pact eliminated restrictions on services between the U.S. and EU member states, allowing airlines from both sides to select routes and destinations based on consumer demand for both passenger and cargo services, without limitations on the number of U.S. or EU carriers that can fly between the two markets or the number of flights they can operate.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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