Air Transport World

False gods

In its open-skies talks, the U.S. has little chance as the U.K. 'protects' British Airways. But then, what about its own house?

If the U.S. and U.K. ever sign a so-called open-skies agreement, its implementation will be anything but an introduction to an era of free-market air commerce between the two.

Consider the Blair government's recent award of Eurostar's London-Paris/Brussels train operations to a consortium that includes British Airways. The award means BA gets to market-and earn computer-transaction fees from-a train franchise that is supposed to compete with airlines. In other words, no matter what the U.K. says, championing BA is what it does, just as it did when BA was floundering and government-owned.

While the U.S. DOT continues to hope for L . K. open skies, using the proposed BA/American Airlines alliance as a prod, it has little chance of building strong competition to BA/AA. So many U.S. carriers want access to London Heathrow Airport that satisfying them individually means none could match BA/AA.

Heath row operator BAA also says, conveniently for BA/AA, that it must phase in any major slot switch from BA's short hauls- though it already has moved many to long haul-to BA/AA competitors' long hauls.

DOT also has few tools for effective retaliation other than to say, as with US Airways' complaint about Charlotte-Gatwick slot times "BA can't start here [Denver-London] either." The U.K.-which traditionally uses linguistic shadow boxing to replace the spirit of agreements-will tie up disputes in an arbitration process to which the U.S. has agreed, naively. …

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