British Airways in the spring plans to cut its trans-Atlantic service to Detroit while boosting its flight offerings to four other U.S. cities, the airline said Wednesday.
The changes take effect March 30, the date the "open skies" aviation agreement between the U.S. and the European Union becomes valid. That deal, hammered out this spring, lets European airlines fly from anywhere in the European Union to any city in the U.S., and vice versa.
British Airways is one of only four airlines offering multiple daily nonstop routes between the U.S. and London's Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest international hubs. Nonstop flights to additional European destinations could be added by summer, a senior executive said.
The daily Detroit route, which has operated for more than 50 years, is being dropped because British Airways said it is not making enough money on the flights. As the city's auto industry declined, Detroit became "a very challenging market to be in," the carrier said.
"The coup de grace came with 'open skies,'" British Airways Commercial Director Robert Boyle said in an interview. "We can make more money flying to Houston."
As part of the network change, flights from Dallas and Houston which now fly to London's smaller and less-central Gatwick Airport will shift to Heathrow. That should make connections easier, the carrier said.
In addition, British Airways plans to add a total of 10 new flights weekly between Heathrow and New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C. The airline also plans to increase from seven to 10 the number of flights it offers each week between Gatwick and Orlando.
"They're obviously profitable markets," said Christopher Avery, an analyst with JPMorgan in London. "B.A. clearly sees it's not meeting demand."
Boyle said the airline is considering adding direct flights from the U.S. to other European cities, perhaps as early as this summer. Although the airline has not made any final decisions, he said the most likely routes would be between New York and European financial centers such as Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.
He also said the company would consider adding additional U.S. cities to its network, although that could prove tricky before 2009, when the airline is expected to begin receiving additional planes it has on order.
"We'll definitely be looking at further opportunities," he said. "Some U.S. expansion is on the list."
Michael Conway, a spokesman for Detroit Metro Airport, said Northwest Airlines will continue to fly nonstop to London Gatwick, and he was hopeful the airport could lure additional international carriers. Still, he said, "it's a shame" British Airways was pulling out after half a century.
"It's a disappointment, but not totally unexpected," he said. "We'll manage."
Customers already booked on Detroit flights departing after March 30 will be contacted and offered alternative flights on British Airways or other carriers.