BA hits back at Virgin: Airline targets rival's US linkLawsuit 'a litany of old grievances'

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The Independent Online
BRITISH AIRWAYS yesterday hit back over the dollars 1bn lawsuit launched against it in the US by Virgin Atlantic, dismissing the airline's anti-trust filing as a '50-page litany of old grievances'.

At the same time Virgin confirmed that as part of its US action it intends to try to prevent BA increasing its stake in USAir, America's fifth largest carrier.

After studying the action filed by Virgin in New York's southern district court alleging that BA had attempted to destroy its smaller rival by unfair and illegal means, a BA spokesman said: 'The basic claims by Virgin appear to depend on the contention that British Airways has a monopoly or near monopoly between the US and the United Kingdom - which, as regular travellers know, is simply wrong.

'Competition is intense between these countries, as it is on the North Atlantic generally,' he added.

The fact that Virgin is seeking not only damages from BA but a block on any further investment in USAir is certain to be examined closely by rival US airlines also opposed to the tie-up.

A spokesman for American Airlines, rumoured to be in talks over a transatlantic link-up with Sabena of Belgium, said it would be following the case closely.

So far BA has invested dollars 368m for a stake of just under 25 per cent in USAir but has the option, subject to regulatory approval, to increase its holding to more than 40 per cent.

The two airlines are already code-sharing on a number of services to domestic US destinations and plan to expand the arrangement to cover many more routes.

BA has 60 days to respond to the Virgin filing, after which the judge will hold an initial hearing to decide if there is a case to answer.

According to Virgin, BA attempted to destroy it and stifle competition on North Atlantic air routes with targeted predatory and anti-competitive acts.

These allegedly included manipulating travel agents and business accounts, selling Concorde tickets at below cost, refusing to accept Virgin tickets on BA services, poaching passengers and carrying out a smear campaign in the press.

Virgin also claims that BA has used its dominant position at Heathrow to monopolise transatlantic routes and hinder competition.