Thursday, April 01, 2010

American Airlines, partners say they shouldn't have to give up Heathrow slots
07:30 AM CDT on Thursday, April 1, 2010
By TERRY MAXON / The Dallas Morning News

American Airlines Inc. and its Oneworld partners told the U.S. government this week that they shouldn't have to give up any slots at London's Heathrow Airport to protect competition.
But if the U.S. Department of Transportation does require them to give up takeoff and landing slots, the requirement should be consistent with that proposed to the
European Commission, the airlines said in filings made public Wednesday.

The commission is testing a proposal that the carriers lease slots to competitors: two pairs for Heathrow-Boston service, two pairs for Heathrow-New York, one pair for Heathrow-Dallas/Fort Worth and one pair for Heathrow-Miami.

But American and its partners said they see no need to give up any New York slots, since their competitors have been able to get slots to launch routes or add flights.

The Transportation Department proposes requiring the carriers to give up two pairs of slots for the Boston route and two pairs for any other route.

The five Oneworld carriers – American, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair Oyj and Royal Jordanian Airlines – applied for antitrust immunity in August 2008, so they could jointly set schedules and fares and otherwise cooperate. As they have done since they applied, the partners denied that Heathrow was a special case that deserved separate treatment from other European airports dominated by other airline alliances.

"Given the unprecedented level of new entry at Heathrow since the advent of U.S.-EU Open Skies, the availability of Heathrow slots for new entrants, and the fact that Heathrow is Europe's most competitive hub, the record simply does not justify imposing remedies," the applicants said.

However, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., the most vocal opponent of the proposal, urged the department to turn down the application.

"The number of slots the DOT has suggested should be given up is entirely inadequate," Virgin president Richard Branson said, "and the idea that BA and AA's competitors should lease slots from them ... is astonishing."

But the Oneworld partners said Virgin should have no complaint. "Virgin serves Heathrow from eight North American gateways and leases out to short-haul carriers Heathrow slots it has used for trans-Atlantic service in the past, proving that Virgin has no need for a slot remedy."

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