SkyTeam plots slot trade

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SkyTeam is planning a major slot trade to allow its three US members to launch services from London Heathrow next spring.

Newly appointed SkyTeam chairman Leo van Wijk says the alliance approved plans at a Vancouver board meeting in early June to make London Heathrow Terminal 4 a "SkyTeam showcase".

SkyTeam members last year agreed to co-locate at Terminal 4 after British Airways moves most of its Terminal 4 operation to Terminal 5, which is due to open next March. Van Wijk says KLM and Air France are now negotiating a slot trade with SkyTeam partners Continental, Delta and Northwest Airlines, which will give them the early morning arrival and lunchtime departure slots to launch services to Terminal 4.

SkyTeam members are considering swapping London Heathrow slots "to increase member airline representation" at the airport, says van Wijk, who will step down in early July as KLM's chief executive and assume the role of SkyTeam's first permanent chairman.

The slot trade is made possible by the new Open Skies agreement between the European Union and USA, which gives all US carriers access to Heathrow. Van Wijk says KLM will have to reduce its London-Holland services and possibly drop its Heathrow-Eindhoven turboprop route to make room for the launch of Detroit-Heathrow and Minneapolis-Heathrow services by transatlantic joint venture partner Northwest. But he adds that "when you compare the profitability of that [Eindhoven] to a transatlantic operation, it's a no-brainer".

Van Wijk says Air France is willing to make room for Delta's planned Atlanta and New York services by reducing its Heathrow-Paris Charles de Gaulle route, which is suffering from increased competition from high-speed train operator Eurostar. He adds that Air France and KLM also have agreed to transfer slots to Continental, which is looking to launch a Houston-Heathrow service, while "multiple schemes" will be used to carry out the slot transactions. "We won't give away slots but need to ensure we get a reasonable return or share in the profit," says van Wijk.

Meanwhile, SkyTeam says China Southern will be ready to join as its 11th full member in November, while Spain's Air Europa, Panama's Copa and Kenya Airways are on track to join as associate members in September.

Van Wijk says he was asked at the June board meeting to become permanent chairman "to provide more continuity and to help further priorities of the alliance". But he adds that "the collaborative nature of SkyTeam will continue" and the creation of one permanent job at the alliance does not indicate it will build "a super structure and overlay of member airlines".