British Airways seeks closer ties with American Airlines

Mumbai: British Airways Plc said it wants to forge closer ties with its US partner American Airlines to fend off a transatlantic joint venture between Delta and Air France. BA, however, said it has no plans to seek regulatory approval for a tie-up.

BA and American Airlines are both members of the OneWorld alliance and have twice previously tried to forge closer links through a profit-sharing arrangement covering transatlantic routes. These attempts failed as US regulators wanted the carriers to cede too many landing slots, particularly at London's Heathrow Airport.

"American Airlines is a key partner for us and in the long term we would like a closer relationship with them," said a BA spokesman. "But we're not going to go into what those two words might mean," he added.

BA's proposal came after Air France and Delta announced an $8 billion-a-year tie-up - the biggest shake-up in years of the transatlantic market, which has long been dominated by BA and Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic.

The Air France and Delta venture, set to take effect next March, is yet to follow a transatlantic Open Skies pact reached by the United States and the European Union.

BA and AA face tougher competition at Heathrow from next April when a transatlantic aviation treaty comes into force that allows any European airline to fly from any European airport to any destination in the US and vice versa for US carriers.

At present, BA and AA are two of only four UK and US carriers allowed to fly to the US from Heathrow.

Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines Inc. said they would start a revenue-sharing joint venture next year covering their transatlantic operations to capitalize on this.

Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, said it expected tough competition on transatlantic routes in the future as it unveiled a new Heathrow airport check-in aimed at retaining its key business travellers.

"We will fight tooth and nail to ensure we can remain the number two carrier at Heathrow," Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said.