British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia reportedly entered negotiations with the European Commission regarding concessions over landing slots at London Heathrow International Airport to ensure approval of their anti-trust immunity application for a trans-Atlantic pricing, coordination and revenue sharing agreement (Wall Street Journal, 20-Jan-2010).
oneworld partners reportedly in talks over London Heathrow slots
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Qatar Airways buys 10% of oneworld's LATAM, to add to its 15% in IAG
Enter Qatar Airways. As Etihad Airways looks to bed down its investments in other airlines, Qatar is gradually expanding its airline investment portfolio. Qatar's 15% stake in IAG is now being followed with a 10% stake in LATAM for USD613 million – nearly 1.5 times Qatar's net profit of USD446 million, disclosed (for the first time) on the day prior to the LATAM equity announcement. It is a safe investment; LATAM group has a strong market position and its share price has remained strong even in the face of a brutal downturn in Latin American economies.
Qatar gives LATAM needed cash and a distant shareholder. Latin America is the smallest market by far for Gulf airlines, but while currently in the economic doldrums, has a longer term potential for growth. It is also a key future market for US airlines, albeit very small on the Gulf airlines' networks. Qatar is spending nearly EUR2.5 billion on equity investments, still smaller than Etihad's but illustrating a willingness to acquire airline assets, for investment and strategic reasons. In this case the immediate strategic purpose for Qatar is less apparent.
Star Alliance's privately owned Avianca is also considering a strategic shareholder; that would mean five of Latin America's eight largest airline groups could have an airline investor from outside the region.
Chinese long haul secondary city air routes: BA's Chengdu exit does not reflect the broader market
The fastest long haul airline growth is not occurring with Gulf airlines but rather, with services to and from secondary Chinese cities. It is not a secret that local incentives and subsidies, generally common in any market, are especially large in price and duration for secondary Chinese cities. An airline might expect over a third of revenues to be subsidised. This drastically alters the business case in a low-margin industry, hence the proliferation of secondary city services. This extreme dependence on subsidies raises the question of how long governments are willing to issue generous subsidies, and how many routes can be sustainable without them.
British Airways' decision to exit its only secondary Chinese route to Chengdu, in Jan-2017, might suggest the music is ending and the secondary long haul bubble is popping. There is added colour given the recent UK-China air service agreement expansion, and Brexit/British pound depreciation overhangs.
BA's exit does confirm market fundamentals: secondary city yields are low, and some routes are ahead of their time. Yet a number of factors unique to British Airways suggest caution in concluding that BA's Chengdu exit could foreshadow other withdrawals.