British Airways has once again extended the suspension almost all short haul flights at London Gatwick airport. It plans to restart flights in March 2022, operated by a new subsidiary airline.
The vast majority of Gatwick short haul routes have transferred to London Heathrow for the winter 2021 season. This runs from Sunday 31 October 2021 to Saturday 26 March 2022.
The only short haul routes expected to operate at Gatwick over the winter season include Amsterdam, Glasgow and Manchester. The airline will continue to run a limited network of long haul flights at the airport. All BA flights at Gatwick continue to operate from the North Terminal.
This was expected as BA should be able to cancel flights at Gatwick over the winter season without forfeiting its airport slots.
This means the airline will go two years without operating a significant schedule of short haul flights at Gatwick.
Further changes to BA’s short haul route network and schedules from all UK airports are likely over the winter season. This is due to continued uncertainty over both COVID-19 related travel restrictions and the level of demand for business and leisure travel.
What Happens To BA At Gatwick Next Summer?
BA CEO Sean Doyle has previously said that the airline is reviewing, with its parent company IAG, plans at Gatwick for the summer 2022 season.
It is highly likely that normal “use it or lose it” airport slot rules will be back in place by then. BA will have to either use its slots, or lease them to other carriers. A return after a virtual two year absence is clearly going require a significant marketing effort to win back passengers.
A BA spokesperson has confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it is now in negotiations with its trade unions to establish a separate company to operate short haul flights at Gatwick.
It is likely that this company would operate under the BA name with BA liveried aircraft (or very close to) but with its own Aircraft Operator Certificate and a lower cost base than what is known as “mainline” British Airways.
It is also highly likely that IAG has discounted using other group airlines such as LEVEL and Vueling as these have nowhere near the brand recognition of BA in London and the South East.
Why Would A New Airline Be Contentious?
This proposal is likely to be quite contentious with trade unions.
Whilst BA has an existing subsidiary, BA CityFlyer Ltd, to operate short haul flights at London City, not only cannot it operate at Gatwick or Heathrow, its aircraft cannot have more than 100 seats.
Gatwick has often been a test bed for changes at BA that soon come to Heathrow (unbundled short haul fares; cabin crew operating both short and long haul flights) so there will naturally be some concern about this.
BA may be able to agree with its trade unions on the establishment of a new company, but the pilots union BALPA in particular, may insist all pilots are on one seniority list. When BA sought to establish a new subsidiary, BA European Ltd, to operate transatlantic flights from mainland Europe under the name “OpenSkies”, BALPA did not object to the set up of a separate airline per se, but insisted that all pilots were on one seniority list.
Bearing in mind BA’s base at Gatwick has been in a near permanent state of restructuring for over 20 years, it is hard to see what further meaningful cost savings can be made.
As is par the course, neither BA nor its parent company IAG, will give a running commentary whilst negotiations with trade unions are taking place – even if there may be a fair amount of “noise” in the interim.
BALPA has issued the following statement:
“BALPA cautiously welcomes this decision to restart BA short haul operations at LGW and create a number of much needed new pilot jobs. BALPA and BA are in the final stages of negotiations over the revised pay and conditions for Gatwick based BA pilots and we hope to bring these talks to a conclusion shortly”