After the apparent collapse of a deal between British Airways and the pilots’ union over the resumption of European flights from Gatwick, talks behind the scenes have continued with the prospect of a deal.
There are now hopes that an agreement has been reached between the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) and BA over the “NewCo” set-up, which will involve Gatwick flight crew on different terms than their Heathrow counterparts.
No British Airways short-haul flights have operated from the Sussex airport since March 2020. BA still holds a substantial number of take-off and landing slots at Gatwick – where it is the second-largest operator after easyJet.
BA has always struggled to make a profit at its second London base. While long-haul leisure services to Florida, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean became profitable, over the past decade – before the coronavirus pandemic – BA lost tens of millions of pounds on Gatwick short-haul operations.
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 from March 2022 onwards.
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 then appeared to have abandoned the plan altogether, and told passengers with advance bookings from Gatwick that their flights would now operate from Heathrow.
It also said it was considering options for disposing of its portfolio of slots.
But talks quietly resumed at the request of the pilots union.
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “Our short-haul operation at Gatwick was consistently unprofitable and we were clear that we could not re-start short-haul flights unless we were able to establish a competitive platform.
“While we have been actively pursuing alternative uses for our slots, last week Balpa asked us to resume discussions.
“These talks were constructive, addressed key concerns and have secured the efficiencies required.
“Balpa is now taking a new proposal to its members.”
A spokesperson for the pilots’ union said: “Talks between BA and Balpa regarding the relaunch of a BA-branded Gatwick short-haul operation reopened late last week.
“As a result, we are now in the process of consulting our BA members on an improved pay and conditions package for Gatwick pilots.
“The result of the ballot will be declared later this week.”
Gatwick airport was described last month by its chief executive, Stewart Wingate, as the major European airport worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
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