American Airlines (AA), British Airways (BA) and Iberia are close to applying for antitrust immunity (ATI) to form a trans-Atlantic revenue-and profit-sharing joint venture, London papers said. They were citing airline executives as their source.
BA and AA have made similar attempts twice before, but abandoned plans as they considered the price being exacted from them to gain these concessions as being too stiff. The concessions required the surrender of a large number of slots at London Heathrow.
The new EU-US ''open skies'' agreement, quite expectedly, according to industry analysts, has inspired the two carriers to consider another trans-Atlantic ATI application.
A BA spokesperson said that the UK flag carrier has been in talks with AA and Iberia ''for some time,'' but no decisions had been reached.
The European Commission also clarified it had not been approached by the three carriers for any alliance.
Meanwhile, rival carrier Virgin Atlantic Airways issued a strong reaction to the speculation. "We would oppose this attempt to create an anti-competitive alliance," director-communications, Paul Charles, said. "It would form a dominant mega-power on trans-Atlantic air routes from two of the largest EU members, forcing up ticket prices for passengers and restricting choice."
The trans-Atlantic route, considered a cash-cow for many airlines has been experiencing consolidation for some time now. An alliance of six SkyTeam airlines won antitrust immunity from US authorities in May this year, while Continental Airlines recent tie-up with United Airlines cited a trans-Atlantic agreement as one of its incentives to leave SkyTeam and join Star Alliance.