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Sun, Apr 19, 2009

Virgin Atlantic Blows Whistle On Missing AA, BA Alliance Paperwork

UK Carrier Says Key Documents Weren't Provided To DOT

In what has been dismissed as another ploy to thwart an alliance between American Airlines and British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways has said the airlines have failed to produce all required materials for review by the US Department of Transportation in their bid for antitrust immunity.

According to CNN reports, Virgin Atlantic director of communications Paul Charles maintains that the 10,000 pages of documentation submitted by the two air carriers to the DOT in March are incomplete, but confidentiality laws prevented him from disclosing specific details.

"Their (BA and American) submission appears to omit scores of key documents, including email attachments and missing pages, that would appear to be highly relevant to this case and, at the very least, responsive to the Department of Transport's request for further evidence," Charles said.

"Antitrust immunity for BA and American would give the carriers further dominance on routes to and from Heathrow, so the regulators need a complete set of documents in order to thoroughly review this case," he added.

A statement released by AA said there was nothing to Virgin Atlantic's claims. "This latest filing by Virgin Atlantic is nothing but a delay tactic," the carrier said. "If Virgin had legitimate concerns about the completeness of our response, it would have come forward long ago."

"British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia fully provided the information requested by the U.S. Department of Transportation when they responded to a request for additional information on March 13," an emailed release from BA said. "We hope the DOT will quickly dispense with this motion and issue a scheduling order.

"We firmly believe approval of our anti trust immunity application and joint business agreement is the quickest way to bring benefits to customers, ensure robust competition and level the playing field for all alliances."

As ANN reported, American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair and Royal Jordanian filed their response on March 13 to answer follow-up questions posed by DOT in December. In August, the airlines submitted their application to DOT and also informed the appropriate authorities in the European Union.

Those carriers assert antitrust immunity will allow the Oneworld alliance to compete more effectively against the SkyTeam and Star alliances, "both of which already enjoy broad antitrust immunity." That will lower prices, the airlines claim, and benefit passengers through more opportunities to earn and redeem frequent flier miles on member airlines.

Opponents, including Virgin Atlantic, have responded by saying the expanded alliance will slash competition on the lucrative trans-Atlantic routes between the US and Europe, not broaden it.

The DOT has six months to issue its ruling on the matter after all required documentation has been submitted.

FMI: www.dot.gov, www.aa.com, www.ba.com, www.virginatlantic.com/monstermonopoly

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