London's Heathrow seeks boost from EU-US 'open skies' deal


The ground-breaking "Open Skies" deal to free up transatlantic aviation, which comes into effect on Sunday, could cement London Heathrow's status as one of the busiest airports in the world.


The "Open Skies" accord will allow airlines the freedom to fly between Europe and the United States, replacing restrictive arrangements agreed many years ago before the massive boom in flying.


Under 30-year-old rules, only British Airways and its rival Virgin Atlantic, and US carriers United Airlines and American Airlines, were allowed to fly from Heathrow to the United States.


Non-US airlines were only permitted to fly only between their country of origin and the United States.


However from Sunday, transatlantic routes are opened up to all, guaranteeing a charge to grab a slice of one of the biggest markets in the aviation industry.


French carrier Air France and US joint venture partner Delta Airlines launch transatlantic services on Monday from Heathrow, which is owned by airports operator BAA.


Other airlines launching new services include US groups Continental Airlines, US Airways and Northwest Airlines, a Heathrow spokeswoman said.


In June, British Airways will launch a new subsidiary airline, to be called OpenSkies, and will offer daily flights from New York to either Brussels or Paris.


European Union transport ministers gave the "Open Skies" deal the green light last year in a bid to encourage competition, drive down fares and raise passenger numbers.


In another boost for Heathrow, the main London airport formally opens its £4.3 billion ($8.6 billion dollars, Dh31.56 billion) Terminal Five (T5) on Thursday, as it seeks to tap into burgeoning demand for global air travel.


The transatlantic route between Heathrow and the United States is a lucrative one, with a first-class BA return ticket costing as much as £7,000 pounds ($14,000, Dh51,380).


Heathrow, which lies west of the British capital and handles 68 million passengers a year, is the world's third largest airport in terms of total passengers, according to data from BAA.


That puts it behind Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta in the United States.


With the opening of Terminal Five, Heathrow could serve as many as 90 million passengers per year plus those generated by the "Open Skies" deal.


Heathrow is coveted by the world's leading airlines because it is the busiest international airport, with 62.1 million international passengers last year.


The second biggest hub for international passenger traffic was Charles de Gaulle in Paris, with 54.9 million travellers in 2007.


T5, which took 15 years to plan and build, will be able to handle 30 million passengers a year but will be used only by British Airways customers.


BAA, which is owned by the Spanish construction group Ferrovial, operates seven British airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted near London; Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland; and Southampton on England's south coast. (AFP)