By Vanni Gibertini
British Airways Considers Abandoning London Gatwick
British flag carrier British Airways is considering permanently shutting down its operations at London Gatwick airport in order to consolidate all its operations at London Heathrow and therefore maintain the pool of slots it holds at the airport even after temporary waivers are lifted.
As the airline industry struggles to recover from the unprecedented crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, carriers are trying to position themselves to be in the best possible position to allow them to compete and thrive in a new world of air travel.
British Airways has been heavily hit by the collapse of international travel demand since domestic flights represent just a tiny percentage of its network. Furthermore, the carrier has its main base at one of the most congested airports in the world — London Heathrow — and the need to drastically reduce its operations during the peak months of the pandemic has left it potentially exposed to losing the grandfather rights to a large number of slots it holds at the airport.
Rules normally require carriers to operate takeoffs and landings in each of their slots 80% of the time during a season in order to maintain the same slots during the following season. British Airways is considering consolidating all of its flights into and out of London to its main Heathrow hub in order to fully utilize all the slots at the most sought-after airport in Europe and protect them from possible incursions by the competition.
British Airways had developed a strong network of short- and long-haul leisure destinations from London Gatwick, reserving Heathrow mainly for business destinations. Now that data seems to show that growth will be driven mainly by leisure traffic for the foreseeable future, British Airways is considering shutting down its presence at Gatwick and consolidate all traffic at Heathrow to safeguard its main fortress.
The idea to abandon Gatwick airport was floated at the beginning of the crisis in early 2020 when expectations were pointing towards a prolonged depression in travel demand. But later in the year, British Airways decided to restart its operations at the secondary airport south of London.
British newspaper The Telegraph reported on Sunday that confidential industry sources are suggesting British Airways is reconsidering the idea of abandoning London Gatwick to optimize its operations focusing at its main airport and at the same time to protect its assets.
“Gatwick is an important decision that we need to take as a group,” Luis Gallego, chief executive of IAG, told analysts last month. “It’s true that we have the issue with the slots. Gatwick has some strategic value, but we need to be competitive there. This crisis is going to change the profile of the demand. So we are analyzing the different options.”