Branson and BA in new clash

Randeep Ramesh

Transport Correspondent

The battle for the skies above the Atlantic reached a new pitch yesterday as the bosses of Virgin Atlantic and British Airways clashed over BA's plan to link up with American Airlines.

Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic and one of the deal's most vociferous critics, told US Congressmen that the proposed alliance between BA and American was "one of the most outrageous developments in the history of air transportation". He said the two airlines were far too big to get together and a link would just put prices up.

Mr Branson was appearing in London before the influential US House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which was also meeting BA yesterday.

He also accused BA of having several secret agreements with other state carriers that would only come to light after the deal with American had gained government approval. "We believe that they have secret agreements with JAL [Japan Air Lines], Iberia [Spain's flag carrier] and KLM," said Mr Branson.

However Bob Ayling, the chief executive of BA, went on the attack by claiming that Virgin Atlantic was "afraid of new competition".

Mr Ayling said his deal would allow UK airports to be opened to all US airlines. "Virgin wants to maintain its cosy position at Heathrow with access denied to airlines such as Continental, US Airways, Delta, TWA and Northwest ... Virgin is afraid of increased competition."

The deal between BA and American, the world's largest airline in terms of sales, is already way behind schedule and has floundered in the face of regulatory pressures.

Karel Van Miert, the European Commissioner in charge of competition policy, has made it clear he will not endorse the deal in its current form. The price demanded by Mr Van Miert, which involves BA having to give up 350 take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, is too high for either airline.

For Mr Branson, who meets Mr Van Miert later today, slots are not the only issue. " I would also like to see a review of frequent flier programmes and airport capacity considered," he said. "Small carriers wishing to start transatlantic flights would find it impossible without access to the new mega-airlines' frequent flier programme."

Mr Branson also proposed a new mechanism to help ease the slot constraint at Heathrow. He believes that slots should be offered on a franchise basis, with government regulators letting them out to airlines who propose the most customer-friendly flights.

"It needs government intervention to bring about proper competition," said Mr Branson.

If the new Labour government - with which Mr Ayling has links - refuses to challenge Brussels, many analysts believe BA will revert to a marketing alliance with American and bide its time for a full partnership.

BA would calculate that eventually, the pressure to open the skies over Europe would become so great that it could win clearance without having to bow to Mr Van Miert.

The US Congressional committee's deliberations are part of the overall American investigation into the alliance, although the key ruling will come from the European Commission.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform