Plans by Aer Lingus to launch what would have been its first ever domestic British service dimmed yesterday after a rival was placed in pole position to secure the slots the Irish airline needed.
Aer Lingus had applied for additional take-off and landing slots at Heathrow and hoped to launch a service to Edinburgh next year.
Those Heathrow slots had been controlled by Bmi and were surrendered by IAG-owned British Airways after it bought that carrier earlier this year. It had to yield the slots to secure European Commission approval for the Bmi acquisition.
But the European Commission has ranked Aer Lingus second in a process that determines which carrier should get the valuable Heathrow slots.
Richard Branson's Virgin had also expressed an interest in operating the Heathrow-Edinburgh service.
"Aer Lingus has been informed that it has been ranked second in its application for slots to be released by IAG to operate the London Heathrow-Edinburgh route," an Aer Lingus spokesman said last night.
"We are awaiting receipt of a copy of the European Commission's decision, setting out the basis of this ranking. The process is still ongoing and we will consider the European Commission's decision in detail upon receipt."
Aer Lingus had planned to operate six daily return services between the two cities.
Airlines applying to use the slots had to submit a business plan and were also allowed to offer a monetary payment as part of their bid. However, that cash element would only be considered in the event that no lead contender emerged for being awarded the slots.