British Airways is launching a new airline in a direct attack on the home turf of Air France, offering flights from Paris and Brussels to New York.
The new carrier is to be named OpenSkies, after the treaty between Europe and America that removed restrictions on non-US airlines carrying passengers from third countries to the United States. BA said that the new airline would be launched in June with a single Boeing 757 aircraft from the BA fleet, providing 82 seats for business, premium economy and economy passengers between New York and either Paris or Brussels. A second aircraft would be seconded to OpenSkies later this year to service the other city. Up to four more aircraft will join the service by 2009, BA said.
The British company appears to be targeting the more lucrative business traffic to New York in its OpenSkies venture, offering flat beds in a 24-seat business class, but BA’s head office was thin on detail and would reveal no information about seat pricing. A BA spokesman was unable to say whether the new carrier would land at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport or at Newark in New Jersey.
Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, said that the name OpenSkies was a celebration of the move towards a liberalised transatlantic aviation market. “It also signals our determination to lobby for further liberalisation when talks between the EU and the US take place later this year,” he said.
Mr Walsh said that he expected OpenSkies to launch more routes by 2009, possibly from Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Milan. BA’s decision to launch a new subsidiary to run its new carrier at a time when Air France-KLM, a key rival, is seeking to take over Alitalia reflects BA’s conservatism and focus on costs.
Balpa, the airline union, expressed concern yesterday about how the airline would be structured. Analysts have speculated that the new company will have a lower cost structure than BA’s operations from Heathrow.
BA appears to be making an early strike on continental markets as it braces itself for more competition at Heathrow.