British airlines win battle of Orly

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The Independent Online
A last-minute deal resolved the 'Battle for Orly' between Britain and France yesterday shortly before Air UK was due to test its right to land at the Paris airport without French permission. An agreement between John MacGregor, the Minister of Transport, and Bernard Bosson, his French counterpart, averted a showdown billed by Andrew Gray, managing director of Air UK, as 'pistols at dawn'.

The two governments agreed that Air UK and British Airways could start regular flights in the next few weeks and the companies abandoned plans to fly in regardless. Today British Airways and TAT, its French affiliate, had planned to defy the French government's ban on flights to Orly, announced despite a recent European Commission ruling that France must open the airport to competition immediately.

However, it was likely that British air traffic control would have refused take-off permission unless French authorities authorised the flight plans of the British aircraft.

The dispute has been seen as a test case in efforts to liberalise air transport and create a deregulated single European aviation market.

The airlines want to use Orly to counter the Channel tunnel train service between London and Paris, due to start in July. Passengers from the area south of Paris could well prefer flying from Orly rather than travelling an extra hour or so by public transport to reach the tunnel terminus at the Gare du Nord. Charles de Gaulle, the other principal Paris airport, is also on the north side of the city.

Mr Bosson, who had been involved in three days of telephone negotiation with Mr MacGregor, said the British airlines would be allowed to operate from Orly 'as soon as possible and at the latest by the end of June'. The French are to resolve safety, environmental and congestion problems at Orly.

In return, the British government promised to review an earlier refusal to allow two French independent airlines, AOM and Air Liberte, to fly to Heathrow. The French media have been critical of their government over the affair, arguing that it was trying to protect an Air France monopoly rather than helping the state-owned airline to modernise.

Financially troubled Air France, which controls the Air Inter domestic airline, sees British Airways, through its TAT link, as a predator. The European Commission ruling last month also gave TAT the right to operate on the Orly-Toulouse and Orly-Marseilles domestic routes.

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