Merger talks between British Airways and American Airlines have been dealt a blow after US authorities ordered the British flag carrier to hand over a top-secret document detailing its inner workings.
BA and AA earlier claimed they were not required to provide the US Department of Transportation with the data but have since been given two working days to cooperate. The two airlines complained that the document contained “confidential business information and non-responsive documents concerning British Airways’ short haul network, airport contracts, and security measures”.
According to the Telegraph, US authorities are particularly interested in airport contracts, including BA’s leading position at Heathrow where it has more than 40 percent of take-off and landing slots.
It is understood that Virgin Atlantic alerted the US transport authority to the missing data, and urged it to obtain the information at short notice rather than the usually longer time period.
Virgin has been lobbying vehemently against BA’s application for anti-trust immunity with AA, which would allow the two airlines and Iberia to co-operate on schedules and fares and to share revenues. Sir Richard Branson has claimed the tie-up amounts to a “monster monopoly”.
Paul Charles, Virgin Atlantic spokesman, said: “We think this is the smoking gun in the whole application because it is going to show just how dominant BA/AA is at Heathrow. Why haven’t they produced it when they are so good at producing 10,000 pages of other information?”
A BA spokesman says the airline was only seeking the same tie-up as rival alliances Star and SkyTeam. “We are confident that the US DoT will approve our ATI [anti-trust immunity] application, which will benefit consumers,” she told The Telegraph.
The BA/AA application is also involved in a wider investigation by the European Commission into whether airline alliances benefit consumers.