PLANS BY British Airways to use Airline Management (AML), a start-up company, to take on tourist routes from London Gatwick to San Juan, Puerto Rico and Tampa, Florida, have run into opposition in the USA, with claims that AML is being set up as a "shell" company without its own aircraft or flight crews.

AML was to take over the routes on 30 March, following the ending of BA's wet-lease arrangement with Caledonian Airways, the division which was sold by BA two years ago, but continued to run the service.

BA describes the deal with AML as a direct replacement for the Caledonian arrangement, although Errol Cossey, chairman of Flying Colours Airlines and involved in the AML venture, says that the airline has ambitions to expand on to other long-haul routes (Flight International, 5-11 March).

The initial plan is for AML to lease a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 from BA and then to wet-lease the aircraft back to the UK national carrier with BA flight crews employed through a "separate contract". Cabin crews would be from Flying Colours.

Despite contracting in BA crews and aircraft, AML plans to run the services on its own Air Operator's Certificate (AOC),which was granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)on 21 March. It has not been made public, however, what details were submitted to the CAA over who would run the airline and what arrangements have been made for maintenance.

Flying Colours has refused to give out any details of the arrangements. Sources within BA, however, suggest that some senior management posts may be filled by senior executives from the UK national carrier.

A copy of the AOC approval obtained by Flight International shows that the CAA imposed a series of special conditions on AML. These include a condition that the airline must give the fleet manager, chief pilot, operations manager and associate director cabin services. AMLmust also give 28 days' written notice of a change in maintenance provisions.

It is known that the company was initially registered by a solicitor in August 1996 as Pritrade, but changed its name to AML in December. Cossey and Alan Stewart of Flying Colours were registered as directors in February. Terry Michaels, Flying Colours' director of flight operations is also now named as a director.

Plans for the launch may be held up, however, by the issue of gaining a US route licence. An application was filed with the US Department of Transportation (DoT)on 21 February, requesting approval by 26 March. Although the date was missed BA was still "confident" that the approval would come through in time to start services on 30 March.

A further complication has come from US-based Laker Airways, which has filed an objection with the DoT claiming that AML is a "virtual airline" without aircraft, employees or finance.

Laker, which has been fighting unsuccessfully for better timings for its own services from Gatwick to Florida, also questions BA's ability to transfer its prime slots and routes to AML. Laker goes on to call for a full investigation into what it describes as a "patently deceptive" operation. "My personal opinion is that it's another cover up for BA," says chairman Sir Freddie Laker, famous for his run-in with BA in the early 1980s.

Source: Flight International