SNP seeks assurances over future of vital air links

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by a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has expressed concern for the future of Scottish air links to Heathrow following news that International Airlines Group (IAG), which owns British Airways, is to buy British Midland (BMI) from current owners German airline Lufthansa.

However Virgin Atlantic reacted to the news by issuing a statement claiming that it had “reached an agreement in principle” to buy BMI by stressing it had tabled its own bid.

Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive, said that he had a meeting with Lufthansa next week to discuss an offer.

Mr Ridgway said:  “IAG’s bid is not a done deal.  Lufthansa have been clear that they are not giving exclusivity to either of us.  They are going to progress both bids.”

Scottish business leaders are also “very concerned” about the bid from British Airways to take over BMI, fearing that the economically vital routes between Scotland and Heathrow may be affected leaving Scottish travellers with fewer flights and increased costs.  BMI operates routes between Aberdeen and Edinburgh to London Heathrow.  The company suspended its Glasgow to Heathrow service in March.   

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Scotland needs to have reliable, affordable connectivity to London and ongoing internationally.  The fear is that BA’s purchase of BMI will translate into fewer flights, limited competition, and increased costs to passengers.

“We are all very aware of the value of BMI’s landing slots at Heathrow, these should be safeguarded for domestic markets and not have the potential to place businesses operating in and out of Scotland at a disadvantage.  We need some guarantees.”

SNP Westminster Transport spokesperson Angus MacNeil MP said that he would raise concerns with the regulator over the move which would give BA a monopoly of routes between Heathrow and Scotland’s three largest cities.

Mr MacNeil said:

“Valuable air links between Scotland and Heathrow have already been lost, and if BA takes over its only rival, then remaining slots will clearly be at risk.  We must have real guarantees that further domestic slots will not be lost.

“The air links between Heathrow and Scotland are vital for our economy, and so we need action to protect these slots as well as the jobs and investment that they support. The UK Government and regulators must step in to protect these links.”

SNP MSP for Edinburgh Western, Colin Keir, who represents Edinburgh Airport, said:

“Scotland’s air links to Heathrow Airport must be maintained and the domestic flights between London and Edinburgh are vital for passengers and businesses.

“Recovery in the aviation sector is fragile so everything must be done to ensure this is not affected. It would be extremely disappointing if the result was less flights or higher prices.

“I will be in contact with all relevant parties to discuss what impact the sale will have on Edinburgh Airport.”