British Airways is being questioned by European and American authorities over alleged cartel activities.

BA today said it had received a request for information from the European Commission and from the US Department for Justice 'relating to alleged cartel activity involving BA and a number of other airlines and cargo operators'.

The airline, now headed by former Aer Lingus chief Willie Walsh, said its policy was to conduct its business in full compliance with all competition laws, and it is assisting the EC and the US authorities.

The commission later confirmed that its officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several air cargo carriers in several EU member states. 'The commission has reason to believe the companies concerned may have violated Article 81 EC-Treaty, which prohibits practices such as price fixing,' a statement said.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The commission said such inspections did not mean that the companies were guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor did it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.