Air Transport World

Action on the North Atlantic. (foreign airlines invade the European market)

United Airlines called it a changing of the guard." European competitors may be more inclined to think of it as the latest in a series of foreign invasions that commenced with the onslaught of the barbarian hordes in Roman times. It" was the arrival of United Airlines flight 918 at Heathrow Airport on the morning of April 4, inbound from Washington, D.C.

Three more United birds of prey-species Boeing 747-200-arrived at Heathrow that day, from New York, Miami and San Francisco. They brought with them the promise of a whole new era in competition on the North Atlantic. After 45 years, Pan Am and TWA, historic also-rans, were being replaced by the hearty and hungry survivors of the most brutal chapter in commercial aviation history, U.S. airline deregulation.

The warning signs were there for anyone to see. For nearly a decade, a new breed of airline predator has been stealing quietly into European cities, grabbing market share and paving the way for a final all-out assault. Take Germany, for example, where U.S. carriers increased their share of the market from 38.3% in 1978 to 54.2% in 1989, according to Washington, D.C.-based Global Aviation Associates (GAA). Or look at France, where the U.S. market share rose 22 points over 11 years to 64.5%, according to the same source.

And now, Fortress Heathrow, closed to the U.S. Titans for 11 years, has lowered the drawbridge to one of the most powerful among them-United. From Heathrow, United's jets are fanning out across Europe, to Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, taking advantage of fifth freedoms operated previously by Pan Am. All that keeps American from joining United at Heathrow are the delaying tactics of a few unions and politicians hoping to block the deal that transfers TWA's London routes to American.

So it's not surprising that they are hanging out the black bunting at Speedbird House. British Airways sees nothing but bad news in the U.K. government's decision to allow the two 900-lb. gorillas" to replace Pan Am and TWA at the world's busiest international airport. it is expected materially to reduce British Airways' future profitability," Chairman Lord King opined gloomily, upon word that an agreement with the upstart colonials had been reached.

"They feel they've been betrayed by the Transport Minister,"' says one observer, commenting on the agreement, which also allows Virgin Atlantic Airways, previously relegated to Gatwick, to operate at Heathrow. …

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