Virgin Atlantic to unleash campaign against BA and American Airlines

Virgin Atlantic is poised to unleash a £3-million advertising campaign against a tie up between British Airways and American Airlines

BA and American planned to present their case for anti-trust immunity to US authorities this week. Iberia is keen to join the pair through a merger with BA, on which talks continue.

Anti-trust immunity would allow the airlines to combine schedules and co-operate on pricing.

But Virgin Atlantic says this would give BA and American 62% of the traffic between Heathrow and the US.

Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson has written to US presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain seeking their opposition.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said: “Dominant players push up prices and snuff out competitors. BA, American and Iberia would have 46.5% of the slots at Heathrow, where they would dominate most key routes.”

BA has applied for anti-trust immunity with American twice before, but found the price demanded by regulators – in slots it would have to surrender at Heathrow – too high.

The pair argue the situation has been transformed by the high oil price and deregulation of transatlantic services. They also point out anti-trust immunity has been granted to Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.

But the Virgin spokesman said: “BA’s control of Heathrow means it cannot be compared with other airlines. Heathrow is full. Nothing has changed. We think the regulators will find [the alliance] anti-competitive.”

Industry sources described as “rubbish” reports that BA is prepared to give up a large number of Heathrow slots in return for immunity.

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