BA insists travellers will “continue to benefit from the same full standard of service that they currently receive”.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, BA has grounded all domestic and European flights from Gatwick.
Last week the airline confirmed it is in talks with unions about an independent offshoot – leading to speculation about the likely size and shape of the operation.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, dismissed the plan as “doomed to fail”. He said that BA’s previous attempts at low-cost subsidiaries had failed, and questioned why its sister airlines, Aer Lingus and Vueling, were not involved.
Now British Airways has issued a remarkably honest briefing – revealing that its Gatwick short-haul operation was unprofitable over the course of the last decade, even at the peak of flying in 2019.
The statement reads: “Whilst many sectors have now returned to some form of normality, the pandemic continues to have a huge impact on aviation.
“Continuing travel restrictions mean that British Airways is not currently flying any short-haul flights from Gatwick and looking beyond this, we know the competitive environment will be even tougher than it was pre-pandemic.
“Whilst we want to restart flying short-haul from Gatwick, we will only do this if we have a competitive and sustainable operating cost base.”
It is understood that the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) is broadly supportive, and is consulting its members on the plan.
Initially up to 17 Airbus A320 aircraft would be based at Gatwick, with plans to increase the fleet over the next three or four years.
In the summer of 2019, around 25 short-haul planes were deployed at the airport.
The BA announcement makes clear: “From a customer experience perspective the new airline will be British Airways branded.
“Alongside this British Airways is in parallel running a process of evaluating alternatives for the London Gatwick slots.
“We believe that our proposals for an independent subsidiary will enable us to both maintain the British Airways customer experience and be competitive in this environment.”
Before the Covid crisis, BA was the second-largest airline at Gatwick – but a long way behind easyJet, whose main base is at the Sussex airport.
British Airways is currently sharing the North Terminal with easyJet and all other airlines. The South Terminal, where BA is normally based, is likely to remain closed until spring 2022 as a cost-saving measure.
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