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BMI wants transatlantic share deal.

Byline: John Duckers

Airline British Midland said yesterday it had sought Government permission to operate a transatlantic code-sharing deal with United Airlines from London's Heathrow airport.

BMI said the two airlines were seeking approvals that would allow BMI to place its code on United's flights from Heathrow to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, as well as US domestic flights.

United's code already appears on selected domestic services in Britain and to the rest of the Europe from Heathrow.

The move will have to be approved by both the UK and US authorities, and that might prove difficult.

Britain and the United States have been haggling for years over an open skies agreement to lift restrictions on the number of airlines that can fly between Heathrow and the US.

And, despite a long-standing campaign, British Midland has always failed to gain permission. A sticking point in the past has been Britain's resistance to opening the valuable take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, to US carriers while the US domestic market is closed to British and other foreign carriers.

The existing Anglo-American bilateral air transport treaty restricts services between Heathrow and selected US cities to two British and two US airlines, despite more than a decade of talks to break the four carriers' stranglehold on the airport.

BMI said its application if approved would give it more flexibility and boost competition in the transatlantic market dominated by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and United.

'Our flights from Manchester to Chicago and Washington continue to attract customer acclaim and it is unfortunate that we continue to be denied the opportunity of bringing these benefits to passengers to the US at Heathrow,' BMI chief executive Austin Reid said. 'Together with United Airlines we can bring greater competition to British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, by gaining the same level of codeshare flexibility that they enjoy with their respective US partners.

'We have decided to make this application now as, despite the fact that EU and US transport officials are to meet in the autumn, we see little chance of rapid progress being made in liberalisation of the transatlantic market at Heathrow and it took the EU more than a decade to sort out its own internal free aviation market. We see this codeshare application as vital, therefore, in ensuring some element of competition is introduced as soon as possible.'

Asked if the new move might not though be perceived as an attempt to circumvent the rules, a spokesman said: 'We are not asking for extra slots. But it seems sensible to try and fill as many seats as possible on each other's flights. We are hopeful we will gain approval.'
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 30, 2003
Words:455
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