British Airways (BA) is creating subsidiary airline ”OpenSkies” to fly daily between New York and either Brussels or Paris from June, subject to regulatory approval.
It is the first time BA has flown to the US from European airports outside the UK, and shows the airline taking advantage of the Open Skies agreement which opens up the transatlantic market from March.
A Boeing 757 will be used to service the first of these European destinations, and a second will be added later in the year to operate the other. Whether New York JFK or Newark is used has not yet been decided.
BA plans to move six of its 757 fleet to the new operation by the end of 2009, and says it will consider routes to other major European hubs such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid and Milan.
”This is an exciting new venture for us and we”re confident that it will be a great success as we build on the strength of British Airways” brand in the US and Europe,” said BA chief executive Willie Walsh.
”By naming the airline OpenSkies, we”re celebrating the first major step in 60 years towards a liberalized US/EU aviation market which means we can fly between any North American and EU destination.”
OpenSkies” 757s will have winglets retro-fitted to improve fuel efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions and increase the operating range.
The narrow body aircraft will seat 82 passengers in three cabins: business (24 seats reclining to 6”/15cm flat-beds); premium economy (28 seats with a 52” pitch); and economy (30 seats with a 31” pitch).
Business class cabin
Walsh added: ”This also signals our determination to lobby for further liberalization in this market when talks between the EU and US take place later this year.”
This sounds bullish, considering last September he accepted that this year”s American presidential elections and a change of the European Commission in 2009 could stall the progress of Stage II in the bilateral Open Skies agreement - which currently runs only until 2010.
Just yesterday a Virgin Atlantic spokesman told ABTN that it was putting plans for a premium-only transatlantic service ”on ice” because, as the situation stands, it would have to ”be wound up” in a year and a half.
BA”s initiative ” until now known as Project Lauren ” was never going to be a business class-only service a BA spokesman said: ”We wouldn”t expose ourselves to one particular sector of the market.”
There are worries regarding the recruitment of pilots for the venture. A British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) spokesman told ABTN that one of the issues was whether current BA pilots would be used, but that the fundamental problem is having two separate forces, thereby breaking up the pilot community.
BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said: ”We welcomed the initiative to take advantage of Open Skies but we have concerns and these have been discussed over the past few weeks and will culminate in discussions on Monday 14 January.
”Pilots, having worked hard to secure the success of BA, want to make sure the structure of the new company is such that it does not put the BA brand or safety record at risk.”
A BA spokesman said: ”We”re in discussion with BALPA, and we are in the process of appointing pilots for OpenSkies.”