London Gatwick, Wizz Air Seek Return to Pre-Covid Slot Rules
(Bloomberg) -- London Gatwick airport and discount carrier Wizz Air Holdings Plc demanded Britain return to rules compelling airlines to surrender more unused operating slots next summer.
The pair have written to U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to back a return to an 80% use-them-or-lose-them threshold in a consultation document expected in coming days. The requirements were relaxed during Covid-19 to shield airlines whose services were hit by the crisis.
Gatwick says its runway is currently underused, starving the airport of revenue. Wizz, meanwhile, has been thwarted in its plan to establish a major hub at the hub south of London.
Regulations for the current winter schedule allow incumbents to temporarily return any operating slots they don’t need and pick them up the following year. They are required to use 50% of those that remain, or have them taken away.
IAG SA’s British Airways has mothballed short-haul routes from Gatwick, though it plans to gear up next summer. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. halted long-haul flights and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA retains slots from a defunct North Atlantic arm. Wizz wants to expand at Gatwick to compete with EasyJet Plc. Edinburgh and Belfast International airports also signed the letter, according to a statement Tuesday.
“The continued use of the waiver would result in most airlines continuing to under-deliver on capacity, while deliberately hoarding slots to protect their market position,” the letter says. “This would significantly harm competition by acting as an intentional barrier preventing other carriers, including new market entrants, from flying these slots instead.”
Britain is due to begin consulting on airport slots “shortly,” before setting out firm plans for the summer 2022 season early next year, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport said.
The European Union is considering a return to the 80:20 rule next summer, according to the letter. Over winter, the bloc requires the use of 50% of takeoff and landing positions from October through March.
Gatwick, owned by French builder Vinci SA, says it’s operating only 58% of pre-pandemic routes, compared with 82% at London Heathrow, Britain’s leading hub, and 85% at discount base Stansted. Yet the airport has had requests for a record 262,000 slots next summer, 40,000 more than in 2019.
IAG Chief Executive Officer Luis Gallego said Monday that British Airways is set to launch a new unit offering European destinations from Gatwick in March following a deal with cabin crew and an earlier accord with pilots, without disclosing how big the operation might be.
Virgin Atlantic “will probably move a bit into Gatwick” once its Heathrow capacity has reached 2019 levels, most likely after April next year, CEO Shai Weiss said.
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