Congressmen threaten BA deal

Chris Godsmark

Business Correspondent

The controversial planned alliance between British Airways and American Airlines came under further pressure yesterday when the European Commission revealed that US Congressional representatives investigating the tie-up shared the same competition fears.

Karel van Miert, the European Competition Commissioner, met the Congressional delegation in Brussels yesterday and said afterwards that both teams had "common ground" on the alliance.

The Commission is thought to be calling on British Airways to give up 350 of its lucrative take-off and landing slots at Heathrow Airport as condition for the alliance going ahead.

The months of horse-trading over the deal, including regulators in London, Washington and Brussels, have increasingly focused on whether BA will be able to receive financial compensation for any slots divested. Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, wants to be able to sell the slots to other carriers, though the Commission is split on the issue of slot sales.

Mr Van Miert is also understood to be concerned that the alliance partners reduce flight frequencies between some transatlantic destinations.

The tie-up would give BA and American Airlines some 60 per cent of UK- US flights and has already attracted huge opposition from rival airlines in the US and Europe.