‘Block BA and Virgin will replace BMI’, says Branson

Virgin Atlantic will add regional UK services to create a second network carrier at Heathrow, Sir Richard Branson says today, if regulators block British Airways parent International Airlines Group in its bid for BMI.

In an article for today’s TWbusiness:am, Sir Richard argues Virgin Atlantic “can replace BMI’s challenge to BA by adding regional UK flying”.

The Virgin Atlantic president says: “BMI performs a vital service for a large number of people. The choice BMI offers is not a ‘nice to have’. It keeps prices down.”

Virgin Atlantic made a formal submission to the European Commission on Friday calling for it to block the IAG takeover.

Politicians in Scotland joined in warning against IAG’s £172 million purchase of BMI from current owner Lufthansa – a deal agreed in December.

Members of the Scottish Nationalist (SNP), Labour and Conservative parties contacted regulators to express concern last week, with a group of Scottish MEPS writing to the European Competition Commissioner who is now studying the deal.

Nationalist MEP Alyn Smith warned of a “significant damaging effect on choice and competition for passengers in Scotland”, and Tory MSP Murdo Fraser expressed concern.

Labour shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran contacted the Office of Fair Trading. She said: “The implications for Aberdeen and Glasgow are significant. Having excellent air links to Heathrow is crucial for the Scottish economy.”

Sir Richard Branson warns: “If this IAG merger is not blocked … There will not be an opportunity for another UK airline to obtain enough extra slots to grow.”

He argues: “A dangerous fault line could grow at the UK’s only global airport hub … Many airlines will have their supply of connecting customers choked off.”

BA has rejected claims its takeover of BMI would result in fewer flights and higher fares from Scotland, pointing out it operates 500 services a week between Scotland and London. In fact, the carrier increased flights between Glasgow and Heathrow in January after BMI withdrew from the route. It urged the Competition Commissioner to clear the takeover.

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