I had actually been working on this post about US and UK aviation relations and now it seems even more appropriate. As you may have heard, a tentative agreement allowing unlimited flights by US and EU carriers between the participating countries was agreed upon last week. There’s a good shot it won’t pass as all EU countries have to approve it.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are already balking about it and its primarily because they want to protect their Heathrow franchises. What do I mean by that?
If you’ve flown to London from the US, you’ve probably tried to fly into Heathrow because that’s considered to be the premier airport in the region. Considering that status, it’s somewhat surprising that American and United are the only US airlines and British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are the only UK airlines that actually fly there from the US.
The reasons for this go back to an agreement signed between the US and UK governments generally called Bermuda II. As you might imagine, this was signed in Bermuda in July of 1977. Amazingly it is still in force today.
Since Heathrow is the most desirable airport in London, it has the harshest restrictions. Only two US airlines and two UK airlines are allowed to fly between Heathrow and the US. For the US, American purchased TWA’s route rights while United bought Pan Am’s. In the UK, both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have the rights.
You might have noticed that Kuwait, Air India, and Air New Zealand fly between Heathrow and the US. Those three were grandfathered in since they have flown the routes for years before Bermuda II went into effect.
As if that’s not complicated enough, there’s more. Only two of the routes can have two airlines from each side. The rest of the routes can only have one from each side. Oh and did I mention that the US cities that can be flown to and from London are explicitly spelled out?
If you’d like to see an excellent synopsis of the agreement, look at this thread from airliners.net. If you prefer to torture yourself, you can read the entire text of the agreement in reply #6 on this thread.
So any attempt at open skies is bound to be fought by BA and Virgin Atlantic over in the UK because they have excellent positions in one of the world’s premier airports. It will be interesting to see if an open skies agreement can be pushed through even despite this opposition.