British Airways considering leaving Gatwick Airport permanently

Jun 21, 2021

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Reports indicate British Airways is reviewing the possibility of ending all operations at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) permanently as a result of the continued falling demand due to the coronavirus outbreak. With fewer planes and fewer scheduled flights, the airline could make the difficult decision to move all Gatwick flights to London’s Heathrow (LHR) airport in order to protect its valuable Heathrow landing and take-off slots.

Pre-pandemic, the airline used Gatwick airport as a ‘second base’ in London, mostly for short and long-haul flights to leisure destinations in Europe, Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Related: British Airways to suspend Gatwick operations during lockdown

The CEO of BA’s parent company International Airlines Group (IAG), Luis Gallego, said last month: “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 analysing the different options.”

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

Airport operations at busy airports like Heathrow and Gatwick are assigned based on ‘slots’, the rights to operate aircraft out of a given airport. Heathrow has strict slot rules in place: to maintain an assigned slot, an airline must use 80 percent of the maximum possible amount of flights.

Otherwise, the slot is taken away from that airline and returned to a slot pool where other airlines can apply for them.

Related: JetBlue secures London Heathrow slots for its transatlantic debut

Due to the current pandemic, these rules have been temporarily relaxed, allowing British Airways to keep both their Heathrow and Gatwick slots while operating far fewer flights.

However, once aviation returns to levels closer to pre-pandemic, the ‘use it or lose it’ rules are likely to be enforced again, leaving BA with a tough decision. With so many aircraft retired or stored already, it may struggle to operate enough flights from Heathrow to keep its slots. A possible solution is to move Gatwick flights to Heathrow which may have operational and connection efficiencies by operating all of these flights from one airport rather than two.

This would mean the leisure-focused flights traditionally operated out of Gatwick would be moved to the more business-focused Heathrow.

Related: Everything you need to know about London’s 6 airports

If BA does choose this option, it would be a further blow to Gatwick Airport. According to research by pilots union Balpa, Gatwick airport is already among those hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, losing up to 92% of its daily passenger flights, with Virgin Atlantic already leaving the airport and Norwegian long-haul ceasing operations.

With slots likely up for grabs at Gatwick for the foreseeable future, this could see more low-cost flights being launched from Gatwick. While easyJet already has sizeable operations at the airport, more slots could see the likes of Wizz Air or even Ryanair increasing their limited Gatwick operations.

Featured photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images


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