Heathrow CEO encourages Virgin Atlantic to challenge British Airways, urges change in slot rules

Oct 24, 2019

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The battle for Heathrow expansion and a less-dominant British Airways presence is heating up. Virgin Atlantic has specifically targeted BA’s stronghold on slots at London Heathrow Airport, and now, the CEO of the airport has favoured a shake up in airport slot distribution.

In an interview on Wednesday, Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said that he was interested in a change that would challenge BA’s dominance over the U.K.’s skies, granting Virgin Atlantic more slots. The change would come about after the airport finally builds its £16 billion third runway, a proposition that’s been hotly contested and discussed for several years.

“The new runway presents a massive opportunity to lower fares, but we need a scale player that can compete with BA”, Holland-Kaye said. “To do that there has to be a change in the slot rules”.

Freeing up the BA slots is a topic on the mind of Virgin Atlantic. In September, the carrier announced that it intended to launch 84 additional routes from London Heathrow, including 12 domestic, 37 European and 35 long-haul destinations. In order for that to happen, however, the government would have to approve a new method for handing out slots. In the current format, new slots are awarded in proportion to how many a carrier currently holds.

Currently, Virgin holds fewer than 5% of slots at Heathrow, according to Bloomberg, though that number is set to grow once the carrier’s acquisition of regional carrier Flybe is finalised to create Virgin Connect. Meanwhile, British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group holds 55% of slots at the airport. Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said on Wednesday that the carrier wants to increase its share of Heathrow slots to 15%.

Related: Hear more from Weiss and Virgin’s plans to become Britain’s second flag carrier on the Talking Points podcast.

“We’re getting on with building the third runway”, Holland-Kaye said. “What IAG would prefer to do is not spend money until after we’ve got planning permission, and delay by two or three years. That’s not in the consumer interest or national interest. In two years’ time Charles de Gaulle will overtake Heathrow as the biggest airport in Europe”.

Featured photo by Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images.

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