THE US Department of Transportation (DoT) has begun to consider the American Airways-British Airways (American-BA) alliance, brushing aside requests by rival carriers to put the inquiry on hold pending the signing of a UK-US open skies bilateral agreement.

Delta Air Lines and Trans World Airlines had both pressed for a delay, while United Airlines had called for a formal hearing on the proposed alliance. That has also been rejected by the DoT.

Although it will start processing the alliance request, the DoT does not rule out the possibility that an approval may be held back until an open skies agreement is in place. "It's premature to say at this stage," says a spokesman. He adds that there is no timetable in place for the approval of the agreement.

The open-skies deal, now almost certain to be delayed until after the UK election on 1 May, will have to be in place before the granting of anti-trust immunity to the alliance. American and BA have both stated that they will not go ahead without the immunity.

American says that the DoT decision appears to recognise the potential gains from US-UKopen-skies agreement, saying in its ruling that benefits would be "-particularly pronounced" given the size of the market and "its current restrictive nature."

Source: Flight International