BA challenged on slots for Inverness route

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The Independent Online
BRITISH AIRWAYS' takeover of Dan-Air is facing a fresh challenge, with the Government being urged to strip BA of the Heathrow-Inverness route if it attempts to switch the service to another London airport.

The call from the British Chambers of Commerce follows concern that BA may move the route out of Heathrow to make way for a more profitable service. BA inherited the Inverness service through its purchase of Dan-Air in October.

This is the second challenge to the takeover. Earlier this month the European Commission launched an investigation into the impact of the deal on services between London and Brussels.

In a letter to John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, the BCC says that if the Heathrow-Inverness service were moved it would rob the economy of the Scottish Highlands of a 'vital lifeline'.

Richard Brown, the BCC's policy director, wrote: 'Our concern is about the possibility that British Airways, in an attempt to secure greater profits from its limited number of slots, may move the Inverness route out of Heathrow in favour of a more profitable route.'

Dan-Air operated three times a day to Inverness, making an estimated profit of pounds 1.5m- pounds 2m on a turnover of pounds 12m.

However, the BCC says that this may not be a big enough profit for BA, given the higher rewards it could reap from more lucrative routes and the need to meet higher overheads such as pilots' salaries.

Of the 141,000 passengers carried on the route last year, 20 per cent took international connecting flights from Heathrow. If the service was moved this important link for businessmen would be threatened, the BCC said.

If BA decides it does not want to operate to Inverness from Heathrow then the take-off and landing slots at Heathrow should be offered to another airline, BCC believes.

Meanwhile, BA is facing what has been dubbed the 'mother of all libel battles' when Lord King, the BA chairman, and Richard Branson, of Virgin Atlantic, confront one another in the High Court next month.

A report last week that the two sides had patched up their differences and would read out an agreed statement on the opening day of the libel action, 11 January, was denied yesterday by sources close to the case.

BA is suing Virgin and Mr Branson for claiming that BA operated a 'dirty tricks' campaign against its smaller rival.

Virgin is countersuing BA for saying that Virgin's allegations were a 'fabrication'. A Virgin spokesman said: 'There is no question of an out-of-court settlement between the two sides. We will be in court on 11 January.'