David Learmount/LONDON

British Midland (BM) has filed bids to launch a series of transatlantic services from London Heathrow, starting what it says will be a market development programme lasting between five and seven years. The carrier says that it has made its move in anticipation of a UK/US "open skies" accord in the near future.

As a starting point BM, the UK's second largest scheduled carrier and a domestic/European specialist, says that it hopes to win three of the 10 US destinations for which it has filed. The airline predicts service entry using three new widebodies snapped up in the buyers' market created by Asian airline order cancellations or deferrals. BM says that the economic problems in Asia have given it a timely and relatively low cost window of opportunity to re-enter the long haul business, which it abandoned 15 years ago.

The expected release of around 300 British Airways/American Airlines slots at Heathrow as a condition for the predicted regulatory go-ahead on their alliance is the other key to the BM decision to move ahead with its plans now.

Destinations filed in the application to the UK Civil Aviation Authority cover the USA coast to coast, including New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The carrier notes that five US airlines, as well as Heathrow incumbents United and American, have filed for Heathrow slots, but believes that it can provide high quality competition to London's biggest slot holder, BA, since it can offer connections with its own extensive European network. Virgin Atlantic Airways also operates transatlantic services from the airport. BM plans a two cabin service with a long haul version of its European "Diamond" business class.

BM says that it is too early to predict the effect that successful bids would have on its connections with its share owner, SAS, partner Lufthansa and codeshares with some 15 others.

Source: Flight International