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US link-up talks as bmi reaches for open skies.

The UK's second biggest airline, bmi british midland, yesterday stepped up its fight for an open-skies agreement which would allow the company to offer transatlantic flights from Heathrow airport.

The airline announced it was seeking a joint venture with Star Alliance member United Airlines, which would enable them to discuss and co-operate on transatlantic routes.

The move comes ahead of UK-US talks in London next Tuesday on the possibility of allowing airlines complete freedom to offer travel between UK and America.

Under existing UK-US air policy regulations, only British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and United Airlines can operate transatlantic flights in and out of Heathrow.

Bmi announced at a press conference in Washington DC that, together with United Airlines, it was seeking anti-trust immunity.

The immunity, if successful, would allow the two companies to work together without being deemed anti-competitive by US authorities.

British Airways and American Airlines are also seeking this regulatory clearance.

Bmi chairman Sir Michael Bishop confirmed that the airline would offer flights from Heathrow to the US destinations of Miami, Denver and Seattle if the open-skies policy was agreed.

The airline would also begin Heathrow services to Washington and Chicago, having already started services to these destinations from Manchester earlier this year.

Sir Michael said: 'The time is right for a deal - not a mini deal but full open skies.'

He added: 'This has been a long running irritant. The original agreement was signed 23 years ago and the world has changed.'

Bmi Heathrow flights to the US could start by next summer if the open skies talks are successful, according to Sir Michael.

United Airlines spokeswoman Shelley Longmuir said: 'The stalemate between the US and UK has gone on far too long.'

It was essential, she said, that the US and UK were opened up to provide lower fares and better competition for customers.

Both nations would need to loosen existing regulations before any surge in trans-Atlantic consolidation could take place. Talks on liberalising air travel are scheduled for June 26 and 27 in London.

Merger speculation has taken hold of the sector following reports that BA was looking to renew merger talks with Dutch carrier KLM, but Sir Michael said it was not planning any such deal with United.

British Midland also announced a code-sharing deal with US carrier Atlantic Coast Airlines Holdings, which the company said would help it compete with BA in the Americas.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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