The Oneworld alliance members seeking US antitrust immunity say that landing slots are available at London's Heathrow -- a major issue, given participation by British Airways in the group.

British Airways, joined by American Airlines, Iberia, Finnair, and Royal Jordanian, last summer asked the US Transportation Department for the legal shield to allow them to coordinate pricing and scheduling on the North Atlantic, saying that rival alliances SkyTeam and Star already have significant advantages from antitrust immunity.

But since British Airways and American are two of the largest North Atlantic carriers at Heathrow, their holding of slots at the popular airport has become an issue. In fact, their presence there was the major reason why they were denied antitrust immunity in the past. Since then, Continental has chosen to leave SkyTeam and join the Star Alliance, while Delta and Northwest have merged, changing the alliance landscape.

The oneworld group now says it is playing catch up, and its answers to DOT questions, although heavily edited, are intended to make the public record complete and clear the way for a decision in the second half of 2009.

They say that "there has been so much capacity added to US-London routes that it is not at all clear that there is even a current need for more new entry". They insist that "there are significant arrival slots in peak hours that are not already allocated to North American arrivals" and that "almost 90 daily suitable slots are held by unaligned airlines", and so presumably are available for a price.

They say that Oneworld's transatlantic service at Heathrow would be split between Terminal Three and British Airways' new Terminal five, whether or not they have the immunity, but believe that the airport operator will create "enhanced connectivity" between T5 and the other terminals.

The Oneworld applicants say that they have yet to decide on the full scope of the joint business agreement they would create for their North Atlantic flights.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news