Cathay's New York deal sparks anger

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The Independent Online

The Government agreed to let Cathay Pacific launch services from Heathrow to New York yesterday in return for Virgin Atlantic being permitted to begin flying to Australia via Hong Kong.

BMI British Midland, which has been lobbying unsuccessfully for six years to be allowed on to transatlantic services, said it would lodge a protest with Brussels, which must approve the deal.

Sir Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Atlantic, said it would launch services on the "kangaroo route" to Sydney from next summer in competition with British Airways and Qantas. This will enable it to link its long-haul services with Virgin Blue, the low-cost domestic Australian airline Sir Richard launched two years ago. His announcement followed confirmation that the Hong Kong-based Cathay had been given rights to fly on from Heathrow to New York as part of a new air services agreement between the UK and its former colony.

Only four carriers are able to serve New York direct from Heathrow - Virgin, British Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines. The deal with Hong Kong will permit Cathay to join them.

Tim Bye, BMI'slegal director, said: "This really rubs salt in the wounds. We are very disappointed that another foreign carrier has been given the right to fly from Heathrow to the US while we are prevented from doing so from our home base."