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British Midland plans to overhaul its image

BRITISH MIDLAND, the country's second biggest scheduled airline, is mulling a change of name following the decision to become a transatlantic carrier.

A firm of outside consultants has been brought in to conduct a root and branch review of the airline's branding. "They will have a completely open brief to look at everything from the logo, to the livery and the name," a spokeswoman said. "We may change the name, we may not."

British Midland currently operates domestic and European services, mainly from Heathrow and styles itself as "The airline for Europe". But it has obtained licences to start flying to four US destinations and hopes to launch the routes next year provided a new bilateral air services pact can be agreed between the UK and the US.

Although British Midland is well-known, it is thought that the name "Midland" is too parochial for a carrier with transatlantic ambitions. "We need to look at our brand to make sure it is acceptable to the American market," the spokeswoman added.

The review, being carried out by Landor Associates, is due to be completed by September. The rebranding of the airline will coincide with a high- profile campaign by British Midland to open up air routes between Heathrow and the US.

British Midland claims that the present agreement, which restricts the number of airlines that can fly to the US from Heathrow to four, has resulted in business passengers paying exorbitant prices.

It says the cost of a business-class return to New York, currently around pounds 2,800, could come down by up to pounds 1,000 if there was more competition on the route. It has licences to fly the New York, Washington, Boston and Miami but cannot use them.

Talks on an "open skies" deal across the Atlantic have been postponed and this week the prospects of the market being liberalised took a further knock when British Airways and American Airlines gave up their three-year fight to create an alliance in the face of regulatory opposition.

"If there was ever a time to look at the brand it is now," British Midland's chief operating officer, James Hogan, told the magazine Travel Weekly.

British Midland, 40 percent owned by Scandinavian Airlines System, is linked to 19 other European airlines in code-sharing - a technique for two carriers to extend their reach by carrying each other's passenger.