Businesses back BA tie-ups

SUPPORT came for flag carrier British Airways (BA) yesterday, after Sir Richard Branson hit out against the group&rsquo;s intended tie-up with American Airlines (AA) and Iberia.<br /><br />Branson, who owns Virgin Atlantic airlines, had said a merger between BA and AA would create a &ldquo;monster monopoly&rdquo; of airline groups, which would lock out competition, and muscle smaller carriers out of Heathrow &ndash; the UK&rsquo;s busiest airport.<br /><br />He hit out again yesterday, saying that the consumer benefits BA and AA say would come of a tie-up were &ldquo;illusory.&rdquo;<br /><br />But US business and consumer groups have given their support to the proposed marriages, sending nearly 3,400 letters to the US Department of Transport (DoT) as the public comment period on the tie-ups ended yesterday.<br /><br />&ldquo;This is overwhelming evidence of the broad base of support for our joint business across the United States and contrasts strongly with the lone airline voice of opposition to our application,&rdquo; said BA chief executive Willie Walsh.<br /><br />&ldquo;We are confident that the US DoT will grant us the approval that we need to bring benefits to customers and create a level playing field among global airline alliances,&rdquo; he added.<br /><br />BA, AA and Spanish flag carrier Iberia, along with fellow members of the Oneworld alliance Finnair and Royal Jordanian, have applied for anti-trust immunity from the US DoT, and are seeking regulatory approval from the European Union.<br /><br />They say approval would &ldquo;establish fair competition with the other global alliances Star and SkyTeam which already have transatlantic anti trust immunity.&rdquo;<br /><br />A decision is due in October.