(JNS.org) The European Union (EU) and Israel have formally signed their proposed “open skies” agreement, paving the way for more flights and cheaper prices between Israel and EU countries. “Israel is a key partner for the EU and today’s agreement is very important for further strengthening the overall economic, trade and tourism relations between Israel and the EU. We expect to see more direct flights to and from Israel, lower prices, more jobs and economic benefits on both sides,” said Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport said in a statement. While the agreement is expected to reduce prices of travel between Israel and EU states by adding more direct flights and competition, the cost savings might make the Israeli carriers less competitive. Staffers from three Israeli airlines — El Al, Arkia, and Israir — held a strike in early April, briefly shutting down Ben-Gurion Airport. The agreement is scheduled to go into effect gradually over the next five years with seven weekly fights to European destinations to be added annually. The EU is Israel’s largest market for aviation, with more than 7.2 million passengers between the two areas in 2011, according to Ha’aretz.