Brussels may take UK to court over BA slots sale

THE WAR of words between London and Brussels over the British Airways-American Airlines alliance escalated yesterday after the European Commission indicated it would take the UK Government to court if it allowed BA to sell runway slots at Heathrow and Gatwick.

The Department of Trade and Industry has already received advice from the Office of Fair Trading that it could override Brussels and permit BA to sell 267 slots at the two airports, worth in the region of pounds 500m. A DTI spokesman repeated yesterday that it was the final arbiter on whether the BA-AA tie-up should proceed.

However, EC sources in Brussels said that if the UK Government were to approve the sale of slots it would be taken to the European Court of Justice.

BA has already said that it will abide by whatever ruling the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson, reaches in his capacity as the legal authority authorised to decide on the tie-up. "If his decision permitted the sale of slots, we would follow that decision," said BA's director of corporate resources, David Holmes.

The wrangle between London and Brussels is the latest twist in the long- running saga of BA's attempts to get regulatory clearance for the alliance.

Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, set himself on a collision course with Mr Mandelson by saying BA should not be allowed to sell the slots at the two airports. The differences of opinion in London are mirrored in Brussels.

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