David Learmount/LONDON


THE USA AND UK have moved towards liberalisation of their bilateral air-service pact. The deal falls far short of the "open-skies" pact being pursued by US negotiators, however.

The US Department of Transportation (DoT) emphasises that the latest accord is the first in a series of planned talks about liberalisation.

Under the terms of the deal, the USA is now free to designate a second carrier on the Chicago-London Heathrow route, but it can operate only once daily and cannot use an aircraft larger than the Boeing 767-300.

The DoT says that it will approve the application of Chicago-based United Airlines "...unless another US carrier offers greater benefits to the travelling public".

In return, British Airways has had its second daily scheduled service to Philadelphia, operated with temporary permission until now formally approved.

Code-sharing limits have been raised on both sides of the Atlantic. This will, for example, enable BA to add another 40 services to its USAir partnership deal, bringing its code-shared services in the USA to a total of 105, operating from 15 gateway airports.

The UK concession allows, for the first time, unrestricted "starburst" code-sharing for US carriers, meaning that they may code-share on any of the UK partner carrier's services, rather than individually designated routes.

The UK is keeping tight limits on access by US carriers to London Heathrow and Gatwick but has agreed effectively to abandon the "approved-gateway-airports" system elsewhere, enabling carriers from either nation to operate direct to any airport in the other.

The DoT says: "Both sides have agreed to consider increased carrier access to London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports during the next phase of these talks, as well as cargo, charter and pricing liberalisation."

Finally, the USA's "fly America" policy, whereby its public servants are required to travel on US carriers, has been modified to allow them to fly on UK airlines, provided that the trip has a US code-shared flight-number.

Source: Flight International