British Midland wants BA slots to go to European rivals

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The Independent Online
British Midland yesterday called on Brussels to force British Airways and American Airlines to hand over slots at Heathrow to rival European airlines as the price for allowing their transatlantic alliance to proceed.

In a letter to Karel Van Miert, the European Competition Commissioner, British Midland's chairman, Sir Michael Bishop, said if the tie-up went ahead it was important to preserve competition on both transatlantic and European routes.

The European Commission is expected to require BA-AA to surrender about 250 take-off and landing slots in return for approving the alliance. The UK's Office of Fair Trading has recommended that the two carriers give up 168 slots to enable rival transatlantic carriers to start competing services.

Sir Michael said the difference between the two - 82 slots or enough capacity to operate five extra round trips a day from Heathrow - should be allocated to carriers operating European routes.

He argued that unless there were more European feeder services into Heathrow, there would not be sufficient numbers of passengers to support new airlines entering the US-Heathrow market in competition to BA-AA.

Sir Michael also claimed that whereas many transatlantic routes were already highly competitive, with four airlines vying for passengers, some European routes were less well served. For instance, only one other flag carrier competes with BA on services from Heathrow to Rome Fiumicino, Milan and Munich.

- Michael Harrison