Although BA, stressing that a European Commission ruling last month authorised flights into the second Paris airport, said it would go ahead, no flight could realistically take off from London until landing permission had been given at the arrival airport, the sources said. A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman in London confirmed that a refusal by the receiving airport would scupper any flight plan.
A colourful and potentially dangerous row which started with BA's announcement on Wednesday, when the airline said it would take up its Orly options on Monday, has evolved into what the French media have dubbed 'la guerre du ciel', 'sky wars', pointing up the aggressive practices of the privatised British flag-carrier against the sleepy behaviour of financially beleaguered Air France.
Shortly after BA, quickly followed by Air UK, said it would fly into Orly next week, Bernard Bosson, the centrist Transport Minister, said this would not be allowed. On the France Telecom Minitel system yesterday, British Airways had six flights scheduled for Orly, while the Paris airports authority listed no Orly flights among the 63 arrivals.
With BA getting unusual exposure on French television as footage of gleaming blue and grey Boeings were shown taking to the skies, some commentators bemoaned the fact that Air France had not properly exploited its own advantages.
Various scenarios were offered in France if British Airways did try to try what Mr Bosson has condemned as a 'coup de force'.
The simplest was that any British Airways flight to Orly would be diverted to Charles de Gaulle Airport, from which all BA flights currently run. Another was that it could be made to stack and then ordered to return to London; or, it could land at Orly and then be ordered to take off again for Heathrow with the passengers not being allowed to disembark. A final was that it could land at Orly and, once the passengers had disembarked, the French authorities would impound the plane.
The re-opening of Orly to London flights for the first time in nearly 20 years results from the Channel tunnel.
In the mid-1970s, just after the inauguration of Charles de Gaulle Airport, 32 kilometres (20 miles) north of the capital, London flights were split between the new airport and Orly. When it became apparent that Orly, a 15-minute taxi ride from southern Paris, remained the passengers' favourite, the French Transport Ministry moved all flights to Charles de Gaulle.
The tunnel trains are due to start a limited schedule in two months' time from the Gare du Nord. To placate the airlines which run around 60 return flights daily at peak periods, the French government gave Air France permission last October to start London flights from Orly as of April 1994.
The French state airline, struggling to re-structure, has failed to capitalise on its Orly advantage while BA, which holds 49 per cent of the French TAT independent airline, successfully obtained equal rights for itself and TAT.
Many TAT planes now carry BA livery. Through Deutsche BA, a German subsidiary, BA livery is to be seen on flights from Paris to Munich and Frankfurt.
The Commission ruling also opened Orly-Toulouse and Orly-Marseilles flights to TAT, meaning that BA-coloured planes can be expected on two of the most lucrative French domestic routes.
Mr Bosson, theoretically a supporter of free trade, has criticised Britain for not granting landing rights for French independent airlines to Heathrow. He named AOM as a candidate. AOM confirmed yesterday that its application for an Orly-Heathrow route last year had been turned down because of congestion at Heathrow.
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