Air France has become the first European carrier take advantage of EU-US open skies by starting transatlantic flights from Heathrow.
The carrier launched flights to Los Angeles while Skyteam partner Delta Air Lines started serving New York and Atlanta from the London hub for the first time.
The two airlines will share revenues and costs on flights between Heathrow and the US, as well as on flights between Air France's Paris-CDG and Lyon hubs, and Delta's Atlanta, New York – JFK, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City hubs.
Additionally, Delta will operate seven services out of Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh to US gateways on a codeshare basis with Air France.
The agreement will be extended by 2010 to all transatlantic flights operated by Air France and Delta between Europe and the Mediterranean on one side and North America on the other side, as well as all flights between Los Angeles and Tahiti.
The UK and Ireland to North America market offers some of the highest growth potential, according to Delta. It accounts for nearly half of all transatlantic traffic in Europe, with eight out of the 12 busiest routes between Europe and the US serving London, including the Los Angeles-London and Heathrow-JFK. The London-Los Angeles route is similar in market size to the Paris-New York route.
The Air France service will use Terminal 2 before moving alongside other Skyteam airlines in Terminal 4 from next February. Delta is operating from Terminal 4.
The new routes will not increase the total number of frequencies at Heathrow as Delta is using some of Air France's slots at Heathrow.
"Air France's decision to launch a new transatlantic route to and from the UK marks a totally new phase in the developing world air transport sector," said the carrier’s deputy CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon.
"Thanks to the new open skies agreement, our ambition in the years to come is to rank among the leading world players on this market.
“Along with KLM, Delta and our other SkyTeam partners, we are determined to offer passengers the greatest choice of routes and schedules between Europe and the rest of the world.
“The ability to offer passengers access to an enlarged network out of London, the leading European market, is a key phase in this strategy."
Delta claims to be strengthening its position as the largest carrier across the Atlantic.
Glen Hauenstein, executive vice-president network planning and revenue management, said: "We are very pleased to be able to serve London's Heathrow Airport in addition to Gatwick.
"This is the world's top business destination and, as a global player, Delta will now be able to offer two options for travellers into this city.
“We are excited not only by the opportunity to serve this destination but also for the increased co-operation between Delta and Air France, which is being demonstrated today. Our co-operation is yielding tangible and positive benefits for our airlines, our passengers and our employees."
by Phil Davies