Virgin says it might return to Gatwick, especially for US routes

When the Covid pandemic began to hit air travel, the slot rules – which require an airline to use 80% of its slots at an airport – were suspended. That suspension has continued ever since, to avoid planes flying empty, just to keep a (valuable) slot. Gatwick is keen to have the slot rules suspension ended, so it can bring in more flights by Wizz, instead of slots being blocked by British Airways and IAG.  Virgin decided to leave Gatwick in May 2020, as it could not make any money, but it kept its slots.  Norwegian is all but defunct as an international airline, but held 10% of Gatwick’s slots before Covid. Those have been sold or leased back to easyjet.  British Airways pre-pandemic was the second largest operator at Gatwick, with 17% of slots. It might, or might not, come back to Gatwick, after saying spring 2020 that it would leave.  IAG could sub-let slots to its low cost airline,  Vueling. Now Virgin is saying it might come back to Gatwick, as it is excited about the prospect of flights to the US returning, now Covid restrictions are eased. Things will change, if the slot waiver is ended, and both Virgin and British Airways would generally prefer to be at Heathrow, where they can make more money.


Virgin Atlantic ready to make U-turn and land again at Gatwick

Last year Virgin quit Gatwick after 36 years of services and laid off or furloughed thousands of staff

By Robert Lea, Industrial Editor (The Times) 
Monday November 15 2021

Virgin Atlantic could make a dramatic return to Gatwick as early as next summer after its withdrawal from London’s second airport during the carrier’s near-death experience in the depths of the pandemic.

Buoyed by the strength of the demand for transatlantic travel after the reopening of routes last week, Virgin has confirmed that the resumption of flights at Gatwick is a case of when and not if.

Eighteen months ago, while on the brink of bankruptcy, it quit the airport after 36 years of services, shut down its operations and laid off or furloughed thousands of staff.

Now, with ministers set to launch a review of their suspension of use-it-or-lose-it rules, which demand that airlines utilise at least 80% of their take-off and landing slots at airports if they are to retain flying rights, Virgin Atlantic could be forced into an early return to Gatwick if it wants a longer-term presence at the hub.

In response to demands from Gatwick and from Wizz Air, the expansionist central European discount carrier, for an end to “slot-hoarding” at the airport that would prevent the launch of new competition, Virgin Atlantic said: “We maintain our ambition to rebuild our presence at Gatwick as demand returns, revisiting a long, close and successful relationship with the airport.

“As travel restrictions are eased in further markets, we continue to see growing consumer confidence.”

While Virgin considers its position, Wizz could be the biggest beneficiary if ministers tell slot-blocking airlines to pass on their flying rights. Norwegian, for instance, now all but defunct as an international airline, held 10% of Gatwick’s slots prior to the pandemic.

The expansion plans of Wizz were further in evidence at the weekend with a firm order and options for 196 new Airbus jets worth a notional $25 billion.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, is being urged to reinstate competition at Gatwick for next year’s aviation summer season, when airlines from March and April begin launching beefed-up flight schedules, especially to sunspots.

The rules also could also an issue for British Airways, which has been loss-making at Gatwick for more than a decade. Pre-pandemic, it was the second largest operator at the hub with 17% of slots.

BA has indicated that it plans to reopen a smaller operation at Gatwick, but has also insisted that it will not sell slots. That could mean it plans to transfer slots to Vueling, its sister Spanish holiday airline, or sublet the slots to other airlines in the short term.

Gatwick said that applications for flying rights at the airport for next summer were running at 20% above its capacity.


Britain must reinstate airport slot rules, say Gatwick and Wizz

LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters)

Britain must bring back pre-pandemic rules on airport slots now, the country’s second biggest airport Gatwick and low-cost Hungarian airline Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) said in a letter to the government on Tuesday.

With most COVID-19 restrictions removed, the number of people travelling is picking up, and Gatwick, Wizz plus Belfast and Edinburgh airports want pre-crisis rules back in place to encourage more flying.

Under normal rules, airlines must use 80% of their take-off and landing rights at busy airports or cede slots to competitors but the so-called “use it or lose it” rule was waived early in the pandemic when the crisis grounded most flights.

Gatwick has particularly suffered from the waiver because British Airways (ICAG.L) and Virgin Atlantic have not been flying from there but have been able to retain their slots, putting a dampener on the recovery at London’s No.2 airport.

Wizz has long-stated its ambition to expand at Gatwick, owned by France’s Vinci (SGEF.PA) and Global Infrastructure Partners, but says the slot waiver is preventing it from adding new flights. read more

In the letter sent to Britain’s Transport Minister Grant Shapps, Gatwick said it was having to turn away potential new airlines because of the waiver and blamed it for only 58% of its pre-pandemic routes operating in August, putting it behind bigger competitor London Heathrow.

“A return of the ‘80/20’ slot rules would bolster the UK aviation sector’s recovery, provide competition and choice for consumers, and help the country connect to vital international destinations,” Gatwick, the other two airports and Wizz said in the letter.

The Department for Transport said in response to the letter: “We are due to consult on airport slots shortly, and will set out firm plans for the summer 2022 season early next year.”

Reporting by Sarah Young, editing by Ed Osmond


See earlier:

British Airways might abandon Gatwick, for Heathrow, if 80% slot use rules are reinstated

British Airways has revived plans to abandon Gatwick and concentrate operations at Heathrow, according to industry sources. This is due to fears by BA’s owner, IAG, that it could lose lucrative take-off and landing slots at Heathrow.  BA first considered leaving Gatwick more than a year ago in anticipation that demand for air travel will remain depressed for a number of years. The landing slots at Heathrow are very much sought-after and expensive, each costing tens of millions of pounds. Usually airlines have to make use of 80% of their slots, or risk losing them.  This was suspended due to Covid, and this waiver was initially due to end in late March. Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, then extended it, with no given end date. If the waiver is finally ended, then British Airways would want to be sure of keeping its lucrative Heathrow slots, by moving more of its activities there, from Gatwick – where the slots are less valuable.


See earlier:


Norwegian slot sale

10th February 2021 

Government extends waiver for airline slot use, with no end date

26th February 2021

Move provides aviation sector with much-needed flexibility and protects environment as airlines will not have to operate carbon-inefficient ‘ghost flights’ to retain their slots.


Suspension of airport “80/20” slot usage rule to last till end of March 2021 – Gatwick not happy

Gatwick airport wants the UK and European regulators to reinstate rules that force airlines to use 80% of their lucrative take-off and landing rights, or lose them, before summer 2021.  Wingate wants airlines to give back slots they cannot use, so other airlines such as Wizz Air can come to Gatwick, driving down air fares and getting more bums on airline seats (helping Gatwick survive). The European regulations insisting 80% of landing slots are used were suspended for 6 months, from March, due to the decimation in air travel demand caused by Covid. This was done so airlines would not fly empty planes, just to say the slot has been used.  The restriction has been extended for another 6 months, to 27th March 2021, as air travel demand will remain very low. There is discussion within the industry if this should continue into next summer, and even industry lobby body, Airlines UK, is in favour of not wasting fuel and generating CO2, with flights by empty planes. Gatwick’s Stewart Wingate wants the UK to do its own thing on the “80/20” slot rule, after it leaves the EU. Several airlines have said they will leave Gatwick, some going instead to Heathrow.


BA shifts short-haul operations from Gatwick to Heathrow

June 30th 2020

British Airways is to move all its short-haul and domestic operations at Gatwick to Heathrow until September.   A “small number” of long-haul BA services will fly from Gatwick from mid-July as outbound UK air travel begins to resume, but the bulk of its ex-London programme will fly from Heathrow.  BA said the move would cut costs “at a time when demand is yet to return” and travel restrictions remain in place. They say that throughout July and August, we’ll be consolidating our Gatwick and Heathrow short haul flying to operate from our Heathrow base.

Many BA flights for July moved from Gatwick to Heathrow, to rationalise operations there

British Airways is switching many short-haul flights from its second-biggest base, Gatwick, to Heathrow in July. BA has already warned that it may abandon Gatwick permanently, or drastically cut its operations there. For 30 years, Gatwick has been the base for BA’s leisure routes, including Mediterranean, Caribbean, Latin American and Indian Ocean destinations. BA Airways has a majority of the slots at Heathrow, but this summer it will use only a small fraction of them, for its much-reduced international network.  The move may help the airline to cut costs, by increasing the efficiency of the operation at its main base, Heathrow. A daytime short haul holiday flight to the Mediterranean can be slotted in between early and late long haul trips, making better use of aircraft and crew. It will also remove some key BA routes from direct competition with easyJet, which is the dominant airline at Gatwick potentially enabling both airlines to increase fares. There may be more BA routes from Gatwick later in the summer, depending on how the Covid pandemic is being dealt with. BA has been described, by the Transport Select Committee, as a “national disgrace” for the way it has treated its staff, forcing them to leave, and then being re-employed on much worse contracts.

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Covid-19: Virgin Atlantic to cut 3,000 jobs and shut down Gatwick operations

Virgin Atlantic has announced it is to cut more than 3,000 jobs in the UK and end its operation at Gatwick airport, due to the collapse in air travel demand because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This comes soon after rival British Airways said it could not rule out closing its Gatwick operation. Virgin was Gatwick’s 9th largest airline, while British Airways was the 2nd largest, after EasyJet, which is largest – Norwegian is 3rd largest. Virgin Atlantic said it will move its flying programme from Gatwick to Heathrow, but it intends to keep its slots at Gatwick “so it can return in line with customer demand”.  The job losses amount to about 30% of the total (the job losses at BA are 28%). Virgin Atlantic also plans to reduce the size of its aircraft fleet from 45 to 35 by the summer of 2022. Even the lobby group, Airlines UK admits that “Airlines are having to adapt to a sector that will be smaller and leaner in future, with no guarantees as to when we will return to pre-crisis levels.”  When lockdown restrictions ease and flight schedules are increased again, there will be fewer passengers, fewer and probably more expensive flights and thousands of  job losses. The area around Gatwick was too dependent on the airport for jobs etc.

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