BMI May Fly to Charlotte

Mar. 29--BMI, the second-largest airline in the United Kingdom, is considering flying to Charlotte now that it can fly to the United States from London's Heathrow Airport.

In a story in the British newspaper The Observer over the weekend, BMI chief executive Nigel Turner said the airline wants to start U.S. service from Heathrow, possibly to Chicago, New York or Charlotte. Charlotte would be attractive because BMI is a Star Alliance member, which would allow its passengers to use the US Airways hub here to connect to destinations throughout the U.S. Tim Bye, BMI's deputy chief executive, said in an e-mail to The Charlotte Observer that a decision could come next month. He said it was premature to say what cities the airline is considering, but cities with Star Alliance hubs would be attractive.

Chicago is the home base of United Airlines, which is also a Star Alliance member.

BMI, formerly British Midland, has a fleet of 42 jets and flies to North America, Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Charlotte today has nonstop service to London on US Airways. But that flight is to Gatwick airport, which is farther from the city. Heathrow is considered a more desirable airport, especially for business travelers.

Flights from Heathrow to the U.S. have been restricted, with only British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and United allowed. But recent approval of the "open skies" agreement -- which will go into effect next spring -- will open access to Heathrow, so long as U.S. carriers can acquire landing slots.

US Airways President Scott Kirby said this month that the airline would be interested in flying to Heathrow. But analysts believe the airline would initially fly from there to Philadelphia, which is US Airways' major international hub.

BMI has 12 percent of the slots at Heathrow, though many are used for flights to nine cities within the United Kingdom.

BMI's only U.S. service today is to Chicago and Las Vegas from Manchester.

If BMI did start service to Heathrow from Charlotte, Charlotte passengers could use the airline's Heathrow connections to connect inside the U.K. and throughout Europe.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160.