BA buys French airline to expand OpenSkies

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The Independent Online

British Airways is buying a privately owned French airline, L'Avion, for £54m as part of its plans to boost the number of flights between France and the United States following the liberalisation of transatlantic air travel.

BA's OpenSkies unit, which launched its maiden flight from Paris last month, was established to exploit the treaty of the same name between the US and Europe, which allows airlines to fly from any European country, not just their home nation.

L'Avion flies two Boeing 757 aircraft between Paris Orly and Newark, which, once the deal with BA is completed, will add to OpenSkies' existing daily service between Orly and New York JFK. The price BA is paying includes the £26m held in cash.

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA, said: "L'Avion is a successful airline that has built up a premium business between Orly and New York in a relatively short period of time. It has many synergies with OpenSkies, and buying it provides OpenSkies with a larger schedule and an established customer base in the Paris-New York market."

Christophe Bejach, the co-founder and chairman of L'Avion, said: "We are happy to merge our operation with OpenSkies. This transaction will strengthen our current base... Our staff will benefit from the ambition and recognised expertise of the buyer and our customers will have access to an even better service."

L'Avion is the last business class-only carrier after Silverjet, Eos and MAXJet Airways all came to grief. OpenSkies' existing 757 jetliner has 52 premium seats and only 30 in economy class and BA is planning a business-only service from London City to New York next year. A number of other airlines, including Continental, Air France, United Airlines and Delta have all launched transatlantic routes since the Open Skies treaty came into effect in April, although BA is the only one to create a new subsidiary business.

Mr Walsh is so keen to establish a strong presence in the new market that he risked a strike from one of the company's most powerful unions, the British Air Line Pilots Association, which was objecting to new pilots for the OpenSkies unit being hired on less attractive terms than colleagues flying in the mainline operation. After some months of negotiation, the High Court action was withdrawn in May.

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