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EU probes possible airline industry collusion affecting flight prices

Brussels - Flight passengers may be paying inflated prices due to possible collusion within the airline ticketing industry, the European Commission warned Friday, as it launched an investigation into the issue.

The in-depth probe focuses on two companies that provide worldwide flight booking systems - Amadeus and Sabre. These systems gather data about flight schedules, seat availability and ticket prices, enabling travel agents and websites to process bookings.

The commission suspects that the two companies may be restricting the ability of airlines and travel agencies to switch to potential competitors, making it harder for other companies to enter the market.

"We are concerned that such restrictions could create barriers to innovation and raise ticket distribution costs, ultimately raising ticket prices for travellers," said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Such behaviour would be in breach of EU competition rules.

Amadeus, based in Spain, said it would cooperate "fully and openly" with the investigation.

"The process will confirm that Amadeus' business practices are fully aligned with legal and regulatory requirements," the company said in a statement, noting that travel agents are "free to choose" between Amadeus and its competitors.

US-based Sabre did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The EU flight industry is a lucrative market, with more than 1 billion passengers transported in 2017 according to the European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat.