American, British Airways stress competition in Oneworld alliance debate

Debate hinges on London's Heathrow

However, he doesn't like antitrust immunity for the other alliances either, and said he's "sympathetic to the argument that there shouldn't be any" alliances.

"What is the point of us having an open skies policy if carriers combine and ally and close the skies?" Brock said. "That strikes me as just contradictory and wrong. The whole point of open skies was to open air travel to competition from around the world."

However, Nawal Taneja, a professor at Ohio State University, said the American-BA alliance should be allowed. The governments have to be fair, and Oneworld carriers aren't that different from other carriers that have received antitrust immunity, he said.

"If you're going to allow one set of carriers -- Delta-Air France, Lufthansa-United, Northwest-KLM -- to go ahead with it, then why not BA and AA?" asked Taneja, who chairs the aviation department in Ohio State's engineering college. "Either you do it for everybody or you don't do it for anybody."

He also sided with American and British Airways in their argument that competitors can now gain access to Heathrow. Airlines can buy takeoff and landing rights from other carriers or get them from alliance partners, and he noted that Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental, Northwest and US Airways Inc. now all have flights into Heathrow.

"Yes, it's more difficult, it's more complex, but it is possible to get [takeoff and landing] slots," Taneja said.

In addition, "in some ways competition would increase," he said. "It would allow passengers an alternative way to get to a destination via a connection through London."

Regulators have until Oct. 31 to decide between the Branson and Virgin view that the American-British Airways linkup would create a "monster monopoly" at Heathrow or the American-BA position that, as Cox asserts, "really isn't about London Heathrow."

"This is about network carriers and allowing the five trans-Atlantic carriers that are members of Oneworld to compete on the exact same playing field that Star and SkyTeam have," said Cox.

"And anything beyond that is a red herring."

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