British Airways (BA) has struck out at today’s open skies deal, labelling the five-month delay as unnecessary and pressing the UK Government to implement sanctions against the US if it fails to rapidly progress to the next stage.

European Union (EU) transport ministers reached agreement on an open skies deal with the USA at a meeting in Brussels today, supporting a preliminary agreement reached by negotiators earlier this month.

BA says that the deal is “a poor agreement for Britain and Europe”. It is urging the UK Government to exercise its right to automatically terminate traffic rights – which the Oneworld carrier says is a provision of the new air treaty – if the US drags its feet on negotiating further liberalisation.

But the Oneworld carrier is planning to act on the development by shifting some of its connection-rich Gatwick-originating services to Heathrow, such as its Houston route.

British Airways CEO Willie Walsh says: “The EU is naïve to believe the US will deliver on the next stage of liberalisation without sanctions, so we are pleased the UK Government has recognised this and demanded an automatic termination clause. However, the five month delay before implementation is unnecessary.

“With the EU having given away their most valuable negotiating asset - Heathrow - the UK government must stand by its pledge to withdraw traffic rights if the US does not deliver further liberalisation by 2010.

“Nothing short of an Open Aviation Area by 2010 will be acceptable and we want talks on the second stage to achieve this to start immediately.”

The carrier is calling for free market access on both sides, without restrictions, which would enable carriers to be fully owned by investors from either continent.

Walsh says: “A genuine liberalisation such as this would deliver huge benefits for customers. It is disappointing that the EU has missed the opportunity to achieve these long term gains for customers.  Instead, this deal will deliver short term gains for the subsidised American aviation industry.

“So far the US has made no meaningful concessions. American carriers can now fly into Heathrow, Europe and beyond while their own backyard remains a no go area for EU carriers and foreign ownership of their airlines remains unchanged.

“We will hold the Government to its word to fight for Britain’s interests if America doesn’t play ball. Though this is a poor agreement for Britain and Europe, we are ready to exploit the new opportunities this agreement gives us for our customers and our business.

“Our priority will be to move the Gatwick services to Heathrow that have most connecting traffic, such as the Houston route which serves the oil markets and give our customers the best possible connections.”

More reaction ...