US seeks more Heathrow slots

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The Independent Online
THE United States will today call for greater access to Heathrow for its airlines, if necessary at the expense of UK carriers, in return for approving British Airways' dollars 750m investment in USAir.

The proposal will be tabled when US and UK negotiators resume talks in London on the liberalisation of air services between the two countries.

US officials want a phased introduction of an open skies policy across the Atlantic, but at a much quicker pace than that proposed by Britain.

During talks in Washington this month the UK team offered to give US airlines the right to fly to more regional airports but proposed that their access to Heathrow be capped at existing levels for a further three years.

Executives from the three biggest US airlines - American, United and Delta - said yesterday that the UK offer was unacceptable and an attempt to impose further curbs on an already highly regulated market.

Since the BA tie-up with USAir would give it direct access to several large hub airports in the US, the three US carriers want equal rights in the UK.

But because of the shortage of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow this might entail other airlines surrendering some of their rights.

With the UK side continuing to insist that approval of the BA-USAir deal should not be made contingent on a liberalisation of air services, there is scepticism as to how far the talks, scheduled to last three days, will get.

Cyril Murphy, vice-president of international affairs at United Airlines, said: 'The two sides are not close, indeed there is still a huge gap between them.'

Both sides accept that agreement will not be possible in any event until after the US presidential election next month.

The US has also run into trouble over its air services treaty with Germany. Reports yesterday suggested the Germans would cancel the pact at the end of the year if the US courts block Lufthansa's bid for Continental Airlines.

The business newspaper Handelsblatt quoted German officials in Washington as saying that Bonn would seek an interim agreement allowing US carriers to maintain their frequencies to Germany at current levels. But this could be cancelled within three months.

The present agreement, dating back to the end of the Second World War, allows US carriers almost unrestricted access to German airports. But Bonn wants to amend it to give Lufthansa greater protection on domestic routes.