By Daniel Hunter

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today (Thursday) announced its decision that British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic Airways (VAA) engaged in anti-competitive practices in relation to the pricing of passenger fuel surcharges, and has imposed a fine of £58.5 million on BA.

VAA brought the matter to the OFT's attention and, under the OFT's leniency policy, has not been fined.

The OFT has concluded that between August 2004 and January 2006, BA and VAA co-ordinated their surcharge pricing on long-haul flights to and from the UK through the exchange of pricing and other commercially sensitive information. This decision brings the OFT's investigation to a conclusion.

The £58.5 million fine imposed on BA is a reduction from the level of fine originally agreed between the OFT and BA in August 2007 as part of an early resolution agreement. The fine was reassessed following the issue of a Statement of Objections in November 2011 in light of a number of factors.

These included legal developments regarding penalty setting for competition law infringements and the fact that the overall value added to the OFT's investigation by BA's co-operation was greater than had been anticipated at the time of the original agreement.

"This decision brings an end to this investigation and sends out a strong message that co-ordinating pricing through the exchange of confidential information between competitors is unlawful," Ali Nikpay, OFT Senior Director of Cartels and Criminal Enforcement, said.

"The size of the fine underlines that it is important for companies to take steps to ensure that they have an effective compliance culture. The fine would have been higher still but for the co-operation provided by BA throughout the OFT's investigation. Without this, together with BA's admission of the infringement, the case would have taken considerably longer to resolve."

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