BA has not operated domestic and European flights from the Sussex airport for 18 months. The airline’s plan is to use the same staff, aircraft and slots that existed in March 2020, but as part of a new entity with lower costs than before.
The British Airways offshoot is expected to start flying in late March 2022, at the start of the summer season.
Michael O’Leary told The Independent he was “absolutely not” worried about the plans.
“Freud said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome,” said the Ryanair chief executive.
“BA has set up about four or five low-cost subsidiaries. They’ve all failed, whether they were Go, BA Express, BA Connect.
“They’ve all been disasters.”
Go was established by British Airways in 1998, based at Stansted airport. British Airways Express was the name originally used by BA’s London City operation, now known as BA CityFlyer.
BA Connect was the name for a short-lived subsidiary comprising British Airways’ regional flights. It was sold to now-defunct Flybe in 2006.
Mr O’Leary also offered some advice to his counterpart at British Airways, chairman and chief executive Sean Doyle.
“They have some low-cost airlines in the group, Vueling and Aer Lingus. I don’t know why they don’t use Vueling to do it.”
The Spanish and Irish carriers are sister airlines of BA in the IAG consortium.
“If BA’s going to set up another low-cost airline, particularly if they set it up in Gatwick, it’s doomed to fail and lose money because Gatwick is a high-cost, inefficient airport.
“The slots are inefficient, and I think it’s just a way of BA limiting competition from Wizz [Air] and from easyJet at Gatwick.
“They should be encouraged to promote competition there, and focus on their main business which is at Heathrow.”
A spokesperson for the airport said: “Gatwick’s airport fees are among the lowest in Europe and, pre-pandemic, we operated the world’s most efficient runway, with security processing times to match.
“Gatwick has no role in the allocation of slots at the airport. We are, however, calling for the Government to implement a sensible return to slot usage rules for the vital summer 2022 season to help the airport recover from the pandemic.
“Regulations for the summer season must strike the right balance between providing flexibility for airlines serving markets that may remain restricted, while ensuring there is an adequate supply of overall seat capacity to meet, what are expected to be, very significant levels of demand.”
The airline schedule analyst Sean Moulton said: “With the pandemic ongoing, airlines across the world are looking to reduce costs. A new budget subsidiary has the opportunity to maintain existing jobs, which would benefit the existing employees.
“Also, IAG will be under pressure from other carriers to use their slots or they risk losing them in summer 2022.
“With European low-cost carriers expanding and Ryanair and Wizz Air actively wanting to grow at Gatwick, this could be seen as a move to block low-cost carriers from basing at London’s second-busiest airport.”
Ryanair flies only three routes to and from Gatwick: its home airport, Dublin; Shannon in the west of Ireland; and Alicante in Spain. From next month it will add a link between Gatwick and Malaga, the main holiday airport on the Spanish mainland.
Mr O’Leary said: “The real challenge at Gatwick is that it’s very heavily slot blocked for early morning departures and late evening arrivals.
“We don’t depend on morning departures or evening arrivals. We think it’s important that there’s at least one truly low-cost airline at Gatwick, and it’s called Ryanair.”
Gatwick is the main base for Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, which says: “We are driven by our strong focus on cost savings, with a commitment to maintaining easyJet’s structural cost advantage against the legacy and charter operators who are its major competitors in its markets.”
Ryanair has its main base at Stansted in Essex. The carrier is ending flights from Southend and Belfast City airports this month.
More details of the British Airways plans for Gatwick are expected in the coming months. The Independent understands it is likely to carry standard BA branding, like the existing BA CityFlyer subsidiary.
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