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Britain and U.S. sign aviation deal for post-Brexit flights

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FILE PHOTO: Passengers from international flights arrive at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain
FILE PHOTO: Passengers from international flights arrive at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain

LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Britain and the United States have signed a deal for the continuation of flights between the two countries as the UK prepares for the end of its transition period with the European Union.

The deal, called the Air Services Agreement, was reached in November 2018, and signed on Tuesday by UK transport minister Grant Shapps after being signed last week by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

"This agreement will establish the legal framework for passengers and cargo to keep flying between our two great nations," Pompeo said on Twitter.

Chao called the agreement "historic," adding that it is set to take effect Jan. 1.

Britain left the EU earlier this year but in practice remains covered by EU agreements and rules until the transition period finishes at the end of this year.

The newly signed agreement allows the two countries to continue existing operations as they did under the EU-U.S. open skies deal, although flying between them is currently at a very low level due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Before COVID-19, tens of millions of passengers a year traveled between the countries, contributing to a trading relationship with the U.S. worth over 230 billion pounds, the UK's Department for Transport said in a statement.

British Airways, part of IAG <ICAG.L>, and Virgin Atlantic, two UK-based airlines that fly trans-Atlantic routes, have called on the two governments to work together to agree to a testing regime to allow travel to recover during the pandemic.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and David Shepardso in Washignton; editing by Michael Holden and Stephen Addison)