Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

British Airways chairman Sir Colin Marshall has called on US transportation secretary Federico Pena to resist pressure to force the pace on a UK-US open-skies agreement in the current round of bilateral negotiations. He also cautions against rushing European moves towards an open-skies policy.

Marshall told the Aviation Club in London on 4 July that Pena "...will remain under congressional pressure to beat up the British over Heathrow, or else rescind the bi-lateral.

"I hope earnestly that he stands firm in resisting the hawkish extremes in order to bring about steady, one-step-at-a-time progress," he added.

"The open skies, which both sides say they want above all else, can only be achieved on a progressive, step-by-step, basis which gives balanced benefits to both sides, en route," Marshall says.

The first stage of bilateral negotiations ended in June with the "mini-deal", which gave US airlines free access to UK regional airports and a second carrier on the London-Chicago route in exchange for liberalising code-share rules.

The current phase of negotiations, is scheduled to be completed by mid-September, although Marshall says that the time-scale "...seems optimistic".

On the agenda is liberalisation of cargo, pricing and charter flights, as well as "new, limited, opportunities" at London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports, according to Marshall.

He lends backing to the long-term goal of a full US-European open-skies agreement, but warns that countries should be allowed to continue negotiating bilaterally until Europe is ready to put a "comprehensive agreement" in place with the USA, complete with "safeguards" against anti-competitive practices on either side of the Atlantic.

Marshall also warns that liberalisation will further raise pressure on Europe's congested airports and "...raise expectations that something will be done to make slots more freely available".

BA is in favour of following the US lead in introducing free trading of slots, a position, which Marshall says he discussed with European Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock in a recent meeting. The European Commission is committed to reviewing the existing slot-allocation rules by July 1997.

Source: Flight International