<p>British Airways’ plans to launch a short-haul subsidiary at Gatwick Airport have been scrapped after it failed to reach an agreement on pilots’ contracts (Gareth Fuller/PA)</p>

British Airways’ plans to launch a short-haul subsidiary at Gatwick Airport have been scrapped after it failed to reach an agreement on pilots’ contracts (Gareth Fuller/PA)

British Airways to suspend Gatwick short-haul operation

Decision follows pilots’ union withdrawing ballot over pay concerns – “We will now pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short haul slots,” says BA

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 04 October 2021 10:18

British Airways has announced it is to suspend almost all its short-haul flights at Gatwick airport – its biggest hub after Heathrow.

BA has always struggled to make a profit at the Sussex airport, and over the past decade – before the coronavirus pandemic – it lost tens of millions of pounds.

All flights were grounded at the start of the Covid crisis, though long-haul services have since resumed.

The carrier had proposed to unions that a new, lower-cost Gatwick subsidiary could be created to make the European and domestic route viable in competition against easyJet.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) was initially supportive. But when the union failed to win assurances that future pay deals would be aligned with those at Heathrow, it withdrew a ballot on the move.

British Airways now appears to have abandoned the plan altogether.

A spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed that our plans for a new short-haul subsidiary at Gatwick have not received Balpa’s support.

“After many years of losing money on European flights from the airport, we were clear that coming out of the pandemic, we needed a plan to make Gatwick profitable and competitive.

“With regret, we will now suspend our short-haul operations at Gatwick, with the exception of a small number of domestic services connecting to our long-haul operation, and will pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short-haul slots.”

The valuable permits to take off and land from what was previously the world’s busiest single-runway airport could be sold or leased to other airlines.

British Airways could instead pass them to Vueling, the Spanish low-cost airline that is part of the same group, or create a stand-alone budget carrier along the lines of Go – which it started in the late 1990s and then sold off.

The union’s acting general secretary, Martin Chalk, said: “Despite our best efforts Balpa was unable to reach an agreement with British Airways on revised terms and conditions for London Gatwick (LGW) short-haul that was acceptable to our members.

“The company has informed us it is now pulling out of LGW short-haul and considering what to do with its LGW slots.

“Balpa remains open to future negotiations with British Airways to address our members' concerns with the proposal for LGW short-haul or about any other part of the business.”

An email sent out to pilots by the airline by Jason Mahoney, BA’s chief operating officer, has been seen by The Independent .

He describes the message as “an update on our recent proposal to build a profitable and sustainable short haul operation out of London Gatwick”.

“Following Balpa’s decision to shut the ballot down last week, we’ve engaged in further discussions with them, but despite us being able to resolve the outstanding contractual issue, Balpa have made the decision not to continue with the ballot.

“It is therefore with regret, that we are now in the position that we will suspend our short haul operations at Gatwick, with the exception of a small number of domestic services connecting to our long-haul operation.”

“We believed we could build a competitive BA branded short haul operation out of Gatwick. But to make this happen, we would have to turn a loss-making operation into a profitable one.

“A competitive Gatwick short-haul operation next summer would have been good for our business as we try to recover and pay back the debts that the pandemic has necessitated.

“It’s not what we wanted but it’s important that we face up to difficult issues so that we can protect the long-term sustainability of the company.”

Research by the data analysts Cirium show a “normal” schedule of 47 British Airways short-haul routes from Gatwick. Frequency is highest to Jersey, Malaga and Faro.

At present the schedules for the peak summer month of July 2022 indicate that BA planned to be the second largest airline at Gatwick, behind easyJet, with 63 daily flights on average and 11,000 seats.

According to the airline schedule analyst, Sean Moulton, the only remaining flights on sale are once-daily links links to and from Glasgow and Manchester.

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