London Heathrow's sole remaining regional jet operator is under pressure from airport owner BAA to either swap or sell its slots at the increasingly congested hub.

Speaking at Luxembourg national carrier Luxair's launch of Bombardier Q400 operations to London City airport, the airline admitted that Luxair is examining its options, with both BAA and airlines interested in acquiring its allocation.

"At the moment, yes, we are fully committed to Heathrow, but BAA's business plan is to get as many possible through its airports," says Luxair's Simon Cook.

He confirms that BAA and Luxair had entered into talks about possibly either swapping or selling its slots, "And when we say swapping we are talking about switching them to different times," says Cook.

Dirk Throwirth, Luxair sales and marketing vice-president, adds: "We think that Heathrow is the most important airport in Europe and we have also been asked by other airlines if we wanted to do something else with our slots. We are now the only airline that goes there with regional aircraft - Embraer ERJ-135s and the Q400s - but it's not really in line with what the authorities want."

The 17 September launch of Q400 four-times daily shuttle services from London City to Luxembourg replaces Luxair's 37-seat ERJ-135, effectively doubling capacity with its third new 72-seat Bombardier aircraft. Luxair already operates the Q400 on its services to Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and its twice daily shuttle to Heathrow.

"We're very happy to have London City. For the majority of our customers it serves our needs and this is where we are really pushing business," says Throwirth, who adds Luxair's services to Heathrow may possibly be adapted to exploit its potential for flight connections much the same way as Frankfurt and Paris are used.

"These are the reasons why we want to keep a presence at London Heathrow," says Throwirth.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh has called on the UK government to support a third runway and solve the "acute" shortage of take-off and landing slots at Heathrow as the government prepares to launch a controversial public consultation on the London airport's expansion.

Source: Flight International