BA Plans US-Pacific Expansion

BRITISH AIRWAYS hopes to operate routes across the Pacific out of America, as well as fly to many new US destinations from Heathrow, when Europe and the US liberalise their flight rights according to chief executive Willie Walsh.

East Coast cities, plus Los Angeles and Seattle, are potential new destinations for BA.

But its US push will not be possible until the second phase of the open skies agreement, approved by transport ministers in Brussels last Thursday, kicks in after 2010. In the short term, BA will switch several flights currently operating out of Gatwick to Heathrow, starting with Houston "as soon as possible", Walsh said in an interview with Financial Sunday Express. That will be followed by flights to Atlanta and Dallas within a year.

Open skies is designed to sweep away longstanding treaties governing who can fly where and own what.

The holy grail is an open aviation area between Europe and the US, which will mean any airline can fly out of Heathrow to America. Walsh said BA would benefit from the new ownership and control rules: American Airlines has long been tipped as a potential partner.

The deal, which has been criticised for being skewed in favour of the Americans, has yet to be agreed by Washington.

Walsh said he would continue to lobby for a better open skies deal, slamming Washington's Fly America policy as "outrageous".

BMI chairman Sir Michael Bishop said there were "significant expansion opportunities" for his airline but he had no plans to sell it.

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