UK authorities have raided British Airways Plc as part of a joint U.S. investigation into an alleged cartel over passenger ticket pricing which saw BA suspend two senior executives.
Some European and U.S. airlines said on Thursday they had been asked to assist in the suspected price-fixing investigation but were not direct targets.
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BA, Europe’s third-largest carrier, said the investigation by Britain’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the U.S. Department of Justice related to passenger ticket prices, including fuel surcharges.
The carrier said its Commercial Director Martin George and Head of Communications Iain Burns had been given leave of absence during the investigation.
The investigation follows a price-fixing probe involving airlines’ cargo charges announced in February which spread to carriers in the United States, Europe and Asia. That investigation is still proceeding.
BA shares, which had been trading at five-year highs, fell 5.8 percent to 346-1/2 pence by 1039 GMT.
“We would be very surprised if a specific issue relating to BA’s pricing has developed. Unfortunately, though, putting key personnel on leave is a difficult signal for the market to interpret,” Deutsche Bank analysts said in a note.
The OFT said it visited BA’s offices on June 13 as part of a civil and criminal investigation into alleged price coordination and its probe was “at an early stage.”
American Airlines , BA’s Oneworld alliance partner, said it has been contacted by U.S. authorities about the probe but was not implicated.
“American Airlines has received a United States federal grand jury subpoena in connection with a government investigation into alleged price fixing in the air passenger industry,” it said in a statement.
United Airlines and Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic also said they were cooperating with authorities.
Some major airlines, including Air France-KLM Germany’s Lufthansa , Australia’s Qantas Airways and Ireland’s Aer Lingus said they were not involved in the investigation. BA’s Spanish partner Iberia said it was not under investigation.
BA and many of the world’s biggest cargo carriers were involved in a global investigation into suspected cargo price-fixing that was launched by authorities in Europe, the United States and Asia in February.
That probe centred on surcharges that airlines have imposed for fuel, added security since the September 11, 2001 hijackings in the United States, and higher war risk insurance, carriers being questioned said.
Jet fuel costs for airlines have soared in the past year on record-high oil prices, prompting many airlines to impose surcharges on fares.
BA first introduced a fuel levy in May 2004 which it last raised in April this year after crude oil prices nosed above $70 a barrel.