The European boss of US-based Delta Air Lines has called for the expansion of Heathrow over Gatwick airport, saying: “business travellers prefer it.”
Delta’s Perry Cantarutti, who is running the airline’s new transatlantic tie-up with Virgin Atlantic, warned: “Cities that offer two hub airports tend to be a limiter for airlines and for passengers. It’s not a viable alternative.”
His comments come just days after Gatwick launched a multimillion- pound campaign for its own second runway. It wants to compete directly with Heathrow, giving London those two hub airports.
“Gatwick serves a purpose for leisure travellers, it has a viable traffic base, and given the size and complexity of travelling across London, there are clearly some people who prefer to fly out of it,” Cantarutti added. “But it’s Heathrow that needs extra capacity; the reality is that business travellers prefer to go via Heathrow.”
He made his comments as Delta began its $360 million (£215 million) Virgin tie-up with an inaugural route to Seattle from Heathrow. Delta has moved routes away from Gatwick as part of its new venture, despite the airport claiming its expansion would provide an economic boost equal to the 2012 Olympics.
But Cantarutti warned London could “get left behind” if the Government fails to come to a decision about expansion. “We’re watching the development of airports in the Middle East with a keen interest and watchful eye,” he said. “Heathrow’s role for providing flights into London is secure, but as a place to connect customers, there’s some risk.”
He also said that Heathrow’s take-off and landing fees — which fall for passengers from today — make it “a very expensive airport to operate from”. The Civil Aviation Authority is forcing Heathrow to cut fees by 1.5% per year until 2019, and the airport today said it would accept the decision.
“The fees and taxes make air travel a very expensive proposition for UK consumers,” said Cantarutti. “Heathrow’s fees are too high. As we plan our joint business with Virgin, these fees are becoming a more relevant consideration surrounding possible expansion.”