A UK Conservative party politician is asking whether airline alliances encourage anti-competitive behaviour, following the news that the European Commission is to launch antitrust proceedings against seven carriers.
Timothy Kirkhope, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has also criticised the Open Skies deal between the US and the European Union (EU) as largely favouring the USA and distorting the market.
"Co-operation between airlines can bring huge benefits to travellers but if it stands in the way of open competition, then the consumer will suffer," he says.
"The marketplace has already been distorted by the Open Skies deal, which gives US carriers full access to our markets, while blocking our operators out of theirs. While anti-competitive behaviour is never acceptable, we have to ask whether international agreements are themselves encouraging this behaviour."
The EC is investigating "existing and planned" cooperation between four current or prospective members of the Star Alliance: Air Canada, Lufthansa and United Airlines, which are current members, and Continental Airlines, which is due to join in October. The second investigation will focus on three Oneworld members: American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia.
The Commission intends to determine whether these co-ordination efforts breached EU rules prohibiting restrictive business practices, specifically Article 81 of the EC Treaty and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement, although it stresses: "The opening of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has conclusive proof of an infringement."