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Continental Airlines Outraged at British Airways' London Heathrow Airport Slot Purchase

Search ASIA Travel Tips .com 15 October 2003

Continental Airlines 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."

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