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American Airlines stops BIA flights to Chicago.

Byline: John Duckers

A merican Airlines is pulling its Birmingham to Chicago service to the dismay of businessmen across the West Midlands.

It claims the service is not being used enough and is blaming the route's demise on too many executives still favouring London Heathrow.

But that brought a swift retort from Birmingham Chamber of Commerce & Industry which suggested that American's commitment had only been partial.

The daily service between Chicago O'Hare and Birmingham International will be dropped from October 14.

Industry sources say American has been losing what are described as 'substantial amounts per flight'.

American only came back on the route in May after abandoning it first in the wake of the worldwide passenger downturn after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US.

Seven AA staff will be affected in Birmingham. The airline hopes to offer them other positions within its UK operations.

'It is very disappointing to have to make this decision as Birmingham Airport is an excellent facility and the airport's management have been tremendously supportive of our efforts to make the route work,' said Matthew Hall, American's general sales manager, UK & Ireland.

'However, we simply have not had the support of enough local business travellers, many of whom seem to prefer to travel south to Heathrow to catch a transatlantic flight. 'Consequently the route is not viable for American and with the challenging economic conditions we face in our industry this is one of a number of changes we are making to our network.'

Earlier this week parent company AMR Corporation reported a second quarter loss of pounds 315 million and warned of a 'sizable' third quarter setback if business travel stayed depressed.

Economcally squeezed themselves, many businessmen have either cut back on travel or opted for low cost tickets.

AMR has lost about pounds 1.3 billion since the September 11 outrages.

Chairman Donald Carty said that though overall traffic had rebounded, average fares were at 15 year lows.

He warned that more job cuts were on the cards, and voiced concern about the number of people opting for discounted tickets instead of traditionally lucrative business fares.

American, which started Birmingham to Chicago in 1995, will continue to offer five daily flights from London Heathrow to Chicago as well as daily Manchester-Chicago services.

Birmingham International Airport expressed disappointment 'at the lack of regional support which has lead to the decision of American Airlines to cancel its daily service'. BIA managing director Brian Summers said: 'Obviously the airline has suffered from the US economic situation and the dip in transatlantic traffic since last September. 'Nevertheless, it is disappointing that, having encouraged American to resume the route in May, the region's business travellers in particular have not given it the support needed and many have continued to take the road to Heathrow.'

He pointed out that the region would still be served transatlantic out of Birmingham by Continental Airlines' Birmingham to New York service, and access to the US via Dublin, Amsterdam and Paris.

Birmingham Chamber spokesman John Lamb said American's decision was a great pity and to be regretted.

Saying that the last thing many executives wanted to do was 'slog' down to Heathrow, he pointed to 'gaps' in American's Birmingham operations.

'Maybe one flight a day was not enough for most people,' said Mr Lamb. 'Perhaps it was not an extensive enough service out of Birmingham and people still found it more convenient to use Heathrow.'

Chris Clifford, a spokesman for West Midlands CBI, said: 'It is not good news for Birmingham and the West Midlands.'

Americans in particular, he added, had been cutting down substantially on the amount of travel they did.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 20, 2002
Words:610
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