British Airways to launch 'open skies' airline linking US with Europe

( AFP ) - British Airways on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new airline with daily flights from New York to Europe, taking advantage of last year's EU-US "open skies" deal to free up the key transatlantic market.

The subsidiary airline, to be called OpenSkies, will be launched in June and initially use one Boeing 757 passenger aircraft that will operate from New York to either Brussels or Paris Charles de Gaulle airports, BA said in a statement.

The single-aisle plane will cater for up to 82 passengers shared between business, premium economy and economy cabins. The Boeing 757 is normally configured for some 200 seats.

BA did not reveal likely ticket prices nor whether OpenSkies would be based on Maxjet, the low-fare business class airline which declared bankruptcy on Christmas Day.

"This is an exciting new venture for us and we're confident that it will be a great success as we build on the strength of British Airways' brand in the US and Europe," BA chief executive Willie Walsh said in a statement.

"By naming the airline OpenSkies, we're celebrating the first major step in 60 years towards a liberalised US/EU aviation market which means we can fly between any US and EU destination," he added.

EU transport ministers last year cleared plans to free up the transatlantic aviation market under a long-sought "open skies" accord expected to drive down fares and raise passenger numbers once it comes into effect on March 30.

Currently non-US airlines can only fly directly to and from the United States from their country of origin. This means that BA flights have to start and end in Britain.

Currently only British Airways and Virgin Atlantic of Britain, and US carriers United Airlines and American Airlines are allowed to fly from London's Heathrow airport to the United States.

BA said Wednesday that its former director of worldwide sales, Dale Moss, will lead OpenSkies after being named its managing director. BA added that the airline will be registered in Britain.

Speaking to AFP, Moss said tickets would be at "fantastic prices" but did not elaborate on what he meant by this.

A second aircraft will be added to the fleet by the end of 2008 which will fly to the destination not initially chosen out of Brussels and Paris.

"The plan is to operate six 757s by the end of 2009, all of which will be sourced from the current British Airways' fleet," BA said in its statement.

Moss added that in the future BA would look to operate between the US and major European cities and financial hubs such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid and Milan.

OpenSkies' business cabins will have 24 seats that convert into six-foot (two-metre) long flat beds.

Maxjet, a two-year-old company that touted itself as the first low-fare business class airline linking London with the US, declared bankruptcy on Christmas Day -- blaming the move on rising fuel costs.

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