Virgin Atlantic says it will urge the UK government to quit Open Skies unless the Americans commit fully to liberalising transatlantic aviation.
Speaking to ABTN at the weekend in western Kenya as the carrier launched a concerted media campaign to boost visitor numbers to east Africa following the recent violence, Virgin president Sir Richard Branson offered a defiant view of the recently concluded Open Skies deal.
The initial stages of Open Skies Phase I have seen a slew of mainly US airlines, notably Continental, Delta, Northwest but also Air France, launch services from London Heathrow but Branson is adamant that much deeper progress has to be made to secure a successful conclusion to Phase II talks.
Asked as to whether Phase II implementation was crucial to freeing up the EU-US market, Branson told ABTN: ”I think it”s extremely important otherwise Phase I was a con.
”The US promised they would go to Phase II but Virgin always suspected that they might have been speaking with forked tongue. We will press the British government to pull out of Open Skies if the US does not follow up.”
Part of the US” concern lies with the politically sensitive issue of foreign ownership or control of US carriers. EU airlines are not permitted to have a majority stake in their American counterparts, but it is extremely unlikely the issue will receive any airing as the US cranks up the presidential election heat.
The furore surrounding Airbus” recent contract win to supply the US with military fuel tankers combined with the political campaign has put any ownership discussion on ice.
And Branson also issued a strong warning to Kenyan politicians that his patience would begin to wear thin if there was any repeat of December”s bloody tribal violence.
Kenya was plunged into violent meltdown as warring tribes struggled for control with a resulting and disastrous slump to visitor numbers to the country.
Virgin operates daily Heathrow-Nairobi services but these could be in jeopardy if the political situation deteriorates again.
”We lost millions and millions of pounds but decided to keep flying,” he said. ”If the politicians mess up again in the future we won”t give them a second chance as they won”t deserve it.”
The Virgin president also reiterated that his airline ”desperately needs” delivery of Boeing”s 787 and that he was talking to the manufacturer to try and secure other leasing options as yet another delay postpones an entry into service date.