The British Civil Aviation Authority issued a report Tuesday that helps clear the way for United Airlines and American Airlines to fly to London’s Heathrow Airport.
United and American acquired London routes from weak U.S. air carriers and have been waiting for British approval to fly to Heathrow, London’s close-in airport. The British government has held up approval pending the authority’s report.
Heathrow has been closed to new carriers since 1977. But in its 18-page report, the agency concludes that “little purpose would be served” by forbidding “direct replacement of qualifying airlines” if a carrier pulls out of the airport.
The report says “it would be unrealistic” to prevent United from replacing Pan American World Airways or to prevent American from replacing Trans World Airlines at Heathrow.
The authority also recommended generally that the British government open Heathrow to international airlines that do not already operate there.
United has agreed to pay $290 million for Pan Am’s Heathrow rights. The transaction would not only hasten United’s European expansion but also would help give Pan Am--now in bankruptcy proceedings--enough money and marketing support to continue its other operations.
American agreed to pay $445 million for TWA’s London routes.
The British report should help United and American press their case with the British government, which has so far refused them access to Heathrow, the main hub of British Airways. If they cannot use Heathrow, the carriers would have to fly to Gatwick Airport, which is farther from London. United and American have said they will not complete their transactions if they cannot fly to Heathrow.
United Chairman and President Stephen M. Wolf called the report a “major first step forward in events leading to a successful conclusion of our purchase of Pan Am’s London routes.”