Star carriers free slots to end EC transatlantic probe

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European regulators have accepted commitments by three Star Alliance carriers aimed at settling competition concerns from their transatlantic joint venture.

The three airlines - Lufthansa, United Airlines and Air Canada - reacted to address suspicions that the venture breached anti-trust rules, notably for premium services on the Frankfurt-New York route.

They have offered to make slots available at Frankfurt and New York, as well as enter agreements with competitors which allows them to offer "more attractive services", says the European Commission.

"As a result, competition on the Frankfurt-New York route will improve," it adds. "After having consulted interested parties through a market test, the Commission has now made these commitments legally binding on the three airlines for a period of 10 years."

The revenue sharing joint venture eliminated competition between the parties on price and capacity, the Commission says, while "considerable barriers" to entry and expansion - particularly slot shortage - limited the opportunities for potential competitors.

Although the carriers argued that their co-operation created greater efficiency on various routes centred on the Frankfurt-New York connection, the Commission said these did "not outweigh" the negative effects.

Independent trustees will monitor the airlines' compliance with the commitments. The carriers will submit data about their co-operation to ease evaluation of its impact on the market.

Similar measures have been previously taken against the Oneworld alliance and the Commission is looking into the transatlantic venture between SkyTeam members.