A leading UK airline boss has dismissed reports that a US-UK open skies deal is in jeopardy, insisting there will be “no fundamental change” in transatlantic flying rights.
Craig Kreeger, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, insisted he is “incredibly confident” there will be a deal between Washington and London.
The Financial Times reported last week that “secret talks” on an open-skies agreement between the US and UK are at risk of stalling and could result in a more-restrictive deal on transatlantic flying than at present.
A bilateral US-UK deal is required when Britain leaves the EU as Brexit will remove the UK from the EU Open Skies agreement with the US which currently covers transatlantic flights.
Kreeger said: “We seek continuation of the open-skies regime as it is today.” He insisted: “We are incredibly confident there will be no fundamental change.”
Speaking at an Airlines UK Annual Lecture in London, Kreeger said: “The [US-UK) talks are not at all secret – one of our team participates, as does someone from another airline.”
However, he said: “It is urgent there is progress [in the talks]. Making our customers nervous is not good.”
Kreeger said an agreement is vital, as he hailed Virgin Atlantic’s joint venture (JV) with Delta Air Lines, saying it had been “amazing” for the airline.
Delta acquired a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic and the pair established a transatlantic JV in 2013.
Kreeger questioned “how Virgin Atlantic would have done without Delta when the pound began its precipitous drop in 2016”.
Rather than suffer a downturn in traffic, he said: “Immediately [the pound fell], we saw an almost 20% increase in US point-of-sale traffic to Britain.”
He dismissed suggestions that Virgin Atlantic is controlled by 49%-shareholder Delta, saying: “We continue to be Virgin Atlantic in every sense – in our brand, product and proposition.”
The success of the JV with Delta “led us to think how we might expand”, he said, and “led us to announce an expanded transatlantic JV with Air France-KLM last July”.
The extended JV should be launched next year, pending regulatory approval.
Kreeger said: “We are putting the finishing touches to an application for anti-trust immunity. There is no reason to suggest it won’t happen.”