Flybe has hit out at the owners of Gatwick, claiming the airline's decision to sell 25 take-off and landing slots at the base to easyJet for £20m was due to the airport's "discriminatory" treatment of smaller airlines.
The move means Flybe will quit its main London hub entirely by next March. Last year it flew 550,000 passengers on seven routes to the likes of Belfast, Newcastle and Jersey from Gatwick.
Flybe claimed GIP, which bought Gatwick from BAA in 2009, had imposed "a discriminatory pricing regime to the operators of smaller, regional aircraft which, in Flybe's case, has resulted in a 102 per cent increase in charges over the last five years, [which meant] Flybe has a significant per seat cost penalty at Gatwick against the operators of larger aircraft, such as easyJet."
Those charges, said Flybe yesterday, plus "the penalistic levels of air passenger duty imposed on UK domestic airlines by successive governments" made the Gatwick routes "unsustainable in the long term".
However, Flybe admitted it will use the proceeds of the sale to cut debts and finance a restructuring plan.
Gatwick said that the changes to its airport charges were aimed at "encouraging more efficient use during the peak as well as greater all-year-round use of our runway".
Since Flybe was floated on the stock market in 2010, there has been a drop in flier numbers, soaring fuel bills, and higher airport taxes.
It is axing about a fifth of its 2700-strong UK workforce and cutting salaries after a string of profit warnings. It is set to reduce costs by £30m this year, higher than its previous £25m target. It is also deferring the arrival of 16 new aircraft due for delivery next year and in 2015.
Gatwick yesterday said: "Flybe has been a valued customer of London Gatwick for over 20 years and we are disappointed that Flybe has made the decision to sell its landing slots but we remain committed to supporting their operations here until they exit in March 2014."