British Airways prefers Gatwick over Heathrow for operational expansion

LONDON, UK — As relations with Britain's busiest airport deteriorate due to a protracted dispute, British Airways aims to boost its operations at Gatwick. The national carrier of the UK will increase its flights from Sussex rather than expanding its Heathrow operations.

BA is understood to be planning to increase the number of aircraft based at Gatwick from 14 to between 24 and 28 in the coming years.

The plans come amid discontentment among airlines operating out of Heathrow. The airport was forced to cap passenger numbers during the summer to prevent a repeat of the chaos that blighted many airports since the Easter holidays.

Heathrow bosses are also lobbying the aviation regulator to increase landing charges - fees that are passed on to customers.

"Our growth will be at Gatwick rather than Heathrow for now," a company manager said.

BA was among a number of airlines to retreat from Gatwick, Britain's second-busiest airport, during the pandemic. Arch-rival Virgin Atlantic moved its operations to Heathrow, turning its back on the base where Sir Richard Branson's maiden flight took off in 1984.

BA returned to Gatwick last year with the launch of Euroflyer, a cut-price short-haul subsidiary that would operate independently in a similar vein to Cityflyer, which runs BA flights from London City Airport.

Euroflyer was BA's plan to avoid racking up big losses running short-haul flights and included similar working practices to budget rivals, meaning some pilots would be paid less than those at EasyJet. BA bosses, meanwhile, have clashed with Heathrow chief John Holland-Kaye both in public and behind closed doors.

Heathrow is waiting on a final decision by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on what it can charge airlines in take-off and landing fees.

Charges are set to fall from £30 per passenger currently to £26 next year under proposals put forward by the CAA.

Heathrow wants to increase the charges to £42 per passenger. Failure to acquiesce to such demands would have a detrimental impact on passengers because the airport would not have the money to invest in vital upgrades and maintenance, Mr. Holland-Kaye said.

Airlines disagree. Luis Gallego, the chief executive of BA parent IAG, has accused Heathrow of "using its dominant market position to enrich shareholders at the expense of travelers, airlines, and the UK's economy."

It remains to be seen whether a rubber-stamping of the £26 charge would impact Heathrow's plans to roll out baggage scanners that will negate the need for passengers to remove liquids and laptops, for instance.

After what sources conceded had been hiccups upon launch, demand for BA's Euroflyer services is particularly strong, with bookings for next year already performing strong, sources said.


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