BA to axe long-haul flights from Gatwick

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The Independent Online

British Airways is today expected to announce a substantial cutback in long-haul flights from Gatwick as part of a sweeping plan to halt scheduled intercontinental services from the airport.

British Airways is today expected to announce a substantial cutback in long-haul flights from Gatwick as part of a sweeping plan to halt scheduled intercontinental services from the airport.

BA is understood to be axing services to Miami and some South American destinations from next April, but it has developed a two-year strategy that will involve other scheduled long-haul flights being scrapped or switched to Heathrow. The airport would be left with chartered flights to long-haul destinations, many of them during the holiday season.

City analysts also believe the company has decided to sell up to a dozen Jumbo jets, four of which will be sold immediately. The airline will buy smaller aircraft, such as the twin-engined, wide-bodied Boeing 777, to replace them so that most existing routes will be covered. However, there will be fewer seats on each flight that can be sold at a premium. BA will be forced to make an announcement of the sale of the aircraft to the stock market because it forms a substantial disposal of assets.

The Gatwick decision has massive implications for its status as an international gateway and for employment at the airport. Rod Eddington, chief executive of BA, is convinced that the struggle to make the Surrey airport into a recognised intercontinental "hub" has failed, partly because of its proximity to Heathrow. Most of the potential job losses would be among ground staff rather than flight crew, who will find it easier to switch from Gatwick to Heathrow.

The policy is a reversal of BA's strategy in the early 1990s when they transferred a number of long-haul services from Heathrow to Gatwick.

The struggling airline had been losing money by scheduling cut-price short-haul flights into Gatwick and Heathrow to match intercontinental services. Mr Eddington wants the airline to become a "point-to-point" operator rather than a facilitator of integrated transport between Europe and the rest of the world.

However, Mr Eddington is keen to avoid a "big bang" announcement that might provoke industrial unrest because of job losses.

Separately, it was announced yesterday that southern England is to get a new transatlantic air service. Continental Airlines, the American carrier, will start daily non-stop scheduled services between Stansted airport in Essex and Newark in New Jersey, USA, on 2 May next year. The airline will operate 172-seat Boeing 757s on the service.

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