American Airlines Faces Questions in BA Case

British and U.S. authorities are investigating suspicions of price-fixing on trans-Atlantic airline flights, officials said Thursday, and American Airlines has been subpoenaed in connection with the inquiry.

Fort Worth-based American received the subpoena from a federal grand jury in relation to a Department of Justice investigation into price-fixing, airline spokesman Tim Wagner said.

He added that American "has not been informed that the company is a target of its investigation," and that executives are cooperating.

Officials with Britain's Office of Fair Trading issued a statement confirming that it is also "conducting both a criminal and civil investigation into alleged price coordination by airlines" on passenger flights to and from that country.

The investigation appears to focus on fuel surcharges, which are extra fees tacked onto international flights to compensate for fuel costs.

British Airways officials said they were being investigated by both agencies, and they announced that two executives -- Martin George, commercial director, and Iain Burns, head of communications -- had been given leaves of absence during the investigation.

British Airways partners with American through the Oneworld alliance, which allows carriers to share frequent-flier programs and connect passengers on each other's flights.

Andrew Light, a London-based airline analyst for Citigroup, said in a report to investors that if found guilty, the airlines would face a steep fine "and jail sentences for the executives involved."

He added that "we therefore find it hard to believe that the airlines colluded, knowing the very grave potential consequences."

This is the second multinational investigation in recent months into airline pricing. Earlier this year, European Union investigators and the U.S. Justice Department launched an inquiry into price-fixing allegations on airline cargo shipments. American was among several U.S. and European carriers subpoenaed in the case.

That inquiry also focused on suspected price coordination on fuel surcharges.

Attorneys representing shippers filed dozens of civil lawsuits against American and other carriers in federal court after the cargo investigation was disclosed.

Rising jet fuel prices have vexed the airline industry for several years, and carriers have struggled to raise prices to offset the costs.

American's stock rose despite news of the inquiry. Shares of AMR Corp., American's parent company (ticker: AMR), climbed 35 cents to close at $25.97 per share in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.



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