Star Alliance and Oneworld members targeted in EU probe

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The European Commission has launched antitrust proceedings again seven airlines, citing "co-operation" on transatlantic routes.

The first of two investigations concerns "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.

According to a Commission statement, each of the two groupings of airlines reached agreements covering joint management of schedules, capacity, pricing and revenue management on transatlantic routes, as well as sharing of revenues and sale of tickets without preference between carriers.

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.

The level of co-operation "appears far more extensive than the general cooperation between these airlines and other airlines which are part of the Star and oneworld alliance", alleges the Commission. However, it adds that "the opening of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has conclusive proof of an infringement".

Consumer benefits arising from the parties' cooperation will be taken into consideration in the Commission's analysis.