I'm not quite clear on the exact nature of the treaty, but there is a specific agreement between the United States and Great Britian that allows only two foreign carriers gates at Heathrow. All others must used Gatwick or another airport in Britain, such as Manchester. I do not believe there are any restrictions like that at any other airport in the U.K.
After WWII, the main route to Europe was via ocean liner. In 1956, the sinking of the beautiful Italian liner Andrea Doria was an eerie signal of the decline of transatlantic traffic on large passenger liners, and the beginning of mass travel to/from Europe on the airplane.
At that time, service was provided by three transatlantic airlines plying the route from LHR
to the New York area - British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), Pan Am, and TWA. As larger jets became available, these routes became enormous cash cows for their airlines.
As BOAC and BEA merged into British Airways, this new company immediately became the dominant airline at LHR
, and, as the official symbol of Britain, was very closely tied to the British Parliament. At the request of BA
, a treaty was signed with the U.S. restricting American transatlantic landing rights at Heathow to just two U.S. airlines, the great dowagers of the skies Pan Am and TWA. The small size and limited gate space were the "official" reasons. This is the reason that Richard Branson is so Anti-BA - it really took an act of Parliament for him to secure landing rights at LHR
fought it vociferously all the way.
In the late '80's, financially strapped Pan Am sold their landing rights to United. In an eerie premonition of its eventual collapse, TWA sold their landing rights to American (at WAY under the amount that it was really worth) on July 17, 1996, tragically at almost the exact same time flight 800 crashed.
The agreement is still in place. London has a strange system, actually - most cities don't have several international airports in the general vicinity, usually one big international airport with smaller, regional airports somewhat closer in (Paris, Milan, Rome). London has numerous international airports in its metro area - City, Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted - all capable of handling international flights (and all but City capable of dealing with long-range large airplanes), but Heathrow is the most desirable based on its combination of location, destinations, and even glamour. Most airlines that fly into LGW
would gladly switch to LHR
if it were possible.
I do not know if the opening of the new terminal five at LHR
will open up any new landing slots. Since the runway restrictions will remain (one runway is used for take-offs, the other for landings, and at mid-afternoon, the usage switches in courtesy to the residents at the end of the runways - along with an 11:30 PM
- 6:00 AM
take-off curfew), I have a feeling this will just be for BA
to consolidate some services at LHR
. We shall see.
Pan Am:The World's Most Experienced Airline - P(oor) S(ailor's) A(irline): San Diego's Hometown Airline-Catch Our Smile!