New talks may herald BA link to American

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The Independent Online

The revival of US-UK aviation talks could breathe new life into British Airways' plans for an alliance with American Airlines, industry sources say.

Senior BA staff were in the US yesterday, with discussions believed to be under way to rivive the link up between the two carriers. The visit came as British and American government officials resumed informal discussions in Washington on a deal to agree an "open skies" pact between the two countries.

A comprehensive deal would involve opening up Heathrow airport to more flights by US airlines, while easing the way for alliances between British and American companies, giving UK airlines freer access to the US market.

BA and American Airlines were well down the road to an alliance last year, but it collapsed in part because the US government refused to give the deal immunity from anti-trust proceedings. Brussels also demanded that the firms give up what the airlines felt were too many slots at Heathrow.

Roger Maynard, who is in charge of alliances for BA, was believed to be in New York yesterday meeting counterparts from AA. British Midland and Virgin Atlantic Airways are also seeking US partnerships.

Political impetus for the talks comes from the highest levels in the British government, with a surprise visit by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, to Washington 10 days ago reviving hopes of a deal. Earlier discussions between Bill Clinton and Tony Blair helped clear the way for talks to resume after they broke up in acrimony in January.

BA has been reluctant to agree to a deal that opens up Heathrow and exposes it to more competition. But industry sources said that if that was inevitable, BA would seek to secure as broad a tie-up as it could.