The sale of the only direct air service to London from Baltimore-Washington International Airport will depend upon the outcome of delicate negotiations between the U.S. and British governments concerning landing rights in England.
The route is among the assets Trans World Airlines has agreed to sell to American Airlines in a multimillion-dollar deal to raise cash for TWA.
If the U.S. and British governments approve, it will be the second time in three years the service from to BWI to London's Gatwick has changed hands. The now-defunct World Airways operated the service until 1987 when it was sold to TWA.
American, the nation's largest airline, has agreed to pay $445 million for six TWA international routes to Gatwick and London's Heathrow Airport as well as some gates and other assets at various airports in the United States. No physical assets at BWI are among those to be sold, said Tim Smith, American Airlines spokesman.
The airline hopes to officially take over the Gatwick routes and begin flying by next November, he said.
Unlike domestic air service, which was deregulated 11 years ago, international service remains subject to government approval. The rights to routes can be sold with federal approval.
The British government must also approve the flights into London. Negotiators for the British and U.S. governments are scheduled to meet later this week in London to discuss whether a treaty prevents American from gaining entry to Heathrow. Several British carriers also want slots at the airport.
Since 1977, the British government has disallowed any new carriers at Heathrow, forcing them to Gatwick and other airports. American said the deal cannot be completed if it is shut out of Heathrow.
Analysts say Britain is expected to ask for certain concessions in return for allowing TWA to transfer its rights to American: the right to sell tickets for domestic legs of international trips flown by British airlines (the New York to Los Angeles part of a London to LA trip, for example), access to more U.S. airports, and permission to own more than the current 25 percent limit of a U.S. airline.