today expressed outrage at the newly confirmed reports that British Airways, the dominant airline at London Heathrow,
has continued to purchase the limited number of
airport slots available. An airport slot provides a carrier a right to takeoff or
land from an airport.
In reports confirmed this week, British Airways announced that it has agreed
to purchase four slots held by one of only two U.S. carriers permitted to
operate at London Heathrow.
This purchase comes on the heels of British Airways' purchase of sixteen
slots from European airline Swiss last month and numerous British Airways
slot purchases over the past five years. It also marks the first time in recent
memory that Heathrow slots held by a U.S. carrier have been bought by the
dominant British carrier.
"Over the past few years, British Airways has ruthlessly strengthened its iron
grip on Heathrow by purchasing the limited number of slots held by distressed carriers," said a Continental spokesperson. "British Airways'
purchases are a scheme to prevent any slots from being available to new U.S.
airline competitors should London Heathrow, the most important and most restricted airport in Europe, open to competition.
"British Airways' continued attempts to close Heathrow to competition should
not go unnoticed. The U.S. paid a hefty price to preserve these Heathrow
rights for U.S. carriers when the United States' aviation treaty with the United
Kingdom was signed, giving British carriers the upper hand and subjecting
non-Heathrow U.S. carriers and U.S. communities to years of futile efforts to
gain access to London Heathrow. Letting these limited U.S. rights slip into
British Airways' hands further proves the need to open Heathrow to carriers
like Continental to expand competition and benefit consumers."
Talks are currently underway between the United States and European Union
over a first-ever aviation agreement between the two parties. At the crux of the
discussions is the failure of U.S. attempts to open London Heathrow to active
competition by additional U.S. carriers, including Continental, which currently
serves London (Gatwick) from New York, Houston and Cleveland. Under the current
U.S.-U.K. aviation agreement, trans-Atlantic flights at Heathrow are closed to all but two carriers from each country.
"Continental urges the U.S. negotiators to make the issue of Heathrow slots
the top priority in their European negotiations," the spokesperson said.
"Simply opening up Heathrow for new carriers is not enough. The right to fly
to Heathrow is useless without the right to take off and land there as well.
Airlines like Continental must be given slots at Heathrow to stem the tide of
British Airways' domination."