Scots voice fears of fewer flights to Heathrow as BMI sale deal nears

BMI has been taken over by the owner of British Airways
BMI has been taken over by the owner of British Airways
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FEARS have been raised that fares will increase and flights be cut between Scotland’s three main airports and Heathrow after British Airways’s owner announced it was close to buying rival airline BMI.

Politicians and business groups are worried for passengers on the busiest route from Edinburgh and Aberdeen if BA is left with a monopoly. It has been claimed that average fares have already increased on BA’s Glasgow-Heathrow flights since BMI abandoned the route in March.

Inverness lost its Heathrow link when BMI left in 2008.

The International Airlines Group (IAG), which owns BA and Spanish carrier Iberia, is primarily interested in BMI’s landing slots at Heathrow to develop more lucrative long-haul routes – which could be at the expense of Scottish flights.

The sale would give IAG more than half of the slots, but experts believe it will not be blocked by regulators, because other airlines have a higher proportion at European airports, such as KLM in Amsterdam.

BMI owner Lufthansa is expected to agree the sale within weeks and complete it by next March. It would also cover no-frills arm BMIBaby, which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow flights to East Midlands. However, the offshoot could be slimmed down or closed.

Lufthansa is also discussing a separate sale of Aberdeen-based BMI Regional, which includes 11 Scottish routes to England and Europe, to a consortium reported to be planning to rebrand it as a Scottish airline.

Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron said: “We are very concerned at the news of this sale. We have already experienced reduced flight capacity from Scotland to Heathrow under BA.

“The fear is that BA’s purchase of BMI will translate into fewer flights, limited competition and increased costs to passengers.”

Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce deputy chief executive Graham Birse added: “Our concern is that services to Scotland will be diminished and the price of seats could creep up.”

The Scottish Government said it would keep in touch with BA “to ensure there are no adverse implications” if BA became dominant.

SNP Westminster transport spokesman Angus MacNeil said he would raise concerns with the competition authorities.

He 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.”

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart said: “Edinburgh airport is already in a period of change after the announcement by BAA that the airport will be sold, and the news creates further uncertainty.”

However, aviation consultant John Strickland warned that BA would still face competition for long-haul passengers from Scotland, such as via Frankfurt and Dubai, which would prevent it from hiking fares.

The Office of Fair Trading refused to comment on a “possible regulatory review” of the deal, saying it was too early.