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Blair to Appeal to Bush on Open Skies: Paper

Britain's British Prime Minister Tony Blair is likely to speak to U.S. President George Bush on Tuesday to urge the United States to commit to further liberalizing its aviation industry, the Sunday Times reported.

An "open skies" deal outlined by U.S. and EU negotiators this month and hailed as the most important air travel pact in decades goes to EU transport ministers for review on March 22.

Britain's transport minister has voiced concern about the deal citing risks to U.K. carriers Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

The deal would open London's Heathrow airport to more airlines, exposing Virgin and BA to more competition at their main airport.

Blair is expected to propose a five month delay to the introduction of an open skies deal and to press for the right of "automatic termination" if the United States does not engage fairly, the newspaper added, quoting airline industry sources.

It quoted Washington sources saying that only the request for a delay would be looked on favorably.

"The negotiations are ongoing," a Downing Street spokesman said. "We have no comment on this."

Virgin and BA are two of only four airlines allowed to fly from Heathrow to the United States under a deal signed in 1978.

The open skies deal would allow others to use the routes, though they would have to buy or swap scarce landing slots at the busy airport in order to do so.

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