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European airlines gave a mixed reception to the US offer to relax its rules on foreign investment in American carriers.The move came from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) as the US and the EU prepared to resume its Open Skies talks in Washington next week (November 14).The DOT said it would loosen the strict rules which now largely stop any foreign investment or influence in the running of US carriers. But this would not change the main stumbling block to outside influence, the ban on a foreign holding of more than 25% in an American airline, which can only be altered by Congress.The DOT proposal would also not change the rule blocking a foreign equity holding of more than 49%. This is allowed only with companies whose country has an open skies agreement with the US and also can only be changed by Congress.UK carrier bmi, which has been fighting for years for a liberalised agreement and for access to Heathrow for transatlantic flights, welcomed the move as an "important step."Nigel Turner, ceo of bmi, said: "We need to study the details, but our initial analysis is that the offer is both significant and wide-ranging."It will lift the lid on foreign investment in US airlines and provide for effective economic control by those interests. "The ownership and control issue is only one of many on the table for the EU and US negotiators. We believe that all these issues need to be considered as part of a balanced deal."Today's US proposal is, nevertheless, an important step.”But Virgin Atlantic's chief executive Steve Ridgway said the US was trying to secure more access to Heathrow without giving anything away in return. "This is a transparent device to fool the EU into agreeing to an imbalanced deal. For example, when EU/US talks resume soon the US Government will be asking for the right for American airlines to fly in to Heathrow and within Europe and yet it will continue to refuse to allow European airlines to fly within the United States."Virgin Atlantic believes in more competition but the only deal worth negotiating is a true Open Aviation Agreement which removes all the regulations which distort our industry," he said.