New chief executive at UK airline aims to beat off competition from BA and Virgin to clinch Indian route rights

Newly installed BMI group chief executive Nigel Turner has vowed to redouble the UK scheduled carrier's efforts to secure long-haul traffic rights from London Heathrow despite tortuously slow progress towards liberalising the highly restrictive US-UK Bermuda II bilateral air-services agreement.

Speaking publicly for the first time since taking the helm at the UK's second-largest full-service airline, Turner said in Las Vegas on 5 November that the carrier's immediate focus was on last week's UK Civil Aviation Authority scarce capacity hearing on the allocation of new Indian route rights.

BMI is attempting to beat off fierce competition from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to secure up to 21 weekly frequencies for services from Heathrow to Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai, India. A CAA decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Turner was in Las Vegas to mark the launch of BMI's three-times-weekly service from Manchester, UK, just a few weeks after succeeding Austin Reid, who stepped down a year earlier than planned for "personal reasons".

While winning the Indian rights would boost the Star Alliance carrier's long-standing plans to establish a long-haul network at Heathrow, the real prize would be approval to serve US cities from the world's busiest international airport in competition with the four airlines now permitted to do so under Bermuda II.

"The Bermuda II agreement is about as tenable as the Berlin wall was - we all know that at some point it isn't going to be there," says Turner, adding that he is "optimistic" bilateral negations will resume early next year.

BMI already has an extensive European scheduled network from Heathrow, where it has its main hub and holds one in seven take-off and landing slots. The airline already serves Washington DC and Chicago from Manchester, and is the second European scheduled carrier to operate to Las Vegas after Virgin Atlantic. It is launching services from Manchester to the Caribbean later this month.

All routes are operated using BMI's three 244-seat Airbus A330-200s. Turner says he believes there are similar aircraft that can be "accessed readily" when additional capacity is required.

Meanwhile, Turner says Star is "edging towards" an agreement with Heathrow owner-operator BAA for the group to occupy Terminal 1 after Terminal 5 opens in 2008.



Source: Flight International