The UK’s competition watchdog is to delay its decision on protecting competition on key transatlantic air routes until after the pandemic.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently investigating a transatlantic agreement between British Airways and American Airlines.
This probe has identified “possible competition concerns” on routes between London airports and five US destinations - Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia.
BA and American have offered “commitments” to reduce these competition concerns, which include making slots available at Heathrow or Gatwick to other airlines for up to 10 years.
But because of the impact of the coronavirus on the aviation sector, the CMA has decided not to accept the proposed 10-year binding commitments from BA and American.
Ann Pope, senior director, antitrust, at the CMA, said: “On some of these routes there are either few or no other airlines offering direct flights to passengers.
“It is clear from market developments and responses to our consultation in May that we cannot be confident that the commitments we had been considering will resolve our competition concerns at this time.
“We are therefore imposing interim measures to extend the effect of the current commitments until the CMA can complete its review of the agreement once the sector is in recovery.”
These interim measures on transatlantic slots will run from next year until 2024 to allow the airline industry to recover from the Covid-19 crisis and be in a “more stable position” while the CMA’s investigation continues.
As part of the CMA’s move, a tender process will take place this autumn on one London-Boston slot.
Other airlines currently operating routes from London to Boston, Dallas and Miami using former BA and American slots will also be able to continue operating them for a further year until March 2022.
This is one year longer than previously agreed under the terms of a 2010 deal between the European Commission and the Atlantic Joint Business Agreement group of five airlines – BA, American, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Finnair.
There will then be a tender process to operate these slots for the following two years up to 2024.