British Airways has warned the carrier could axe its flights from its main hub Heathrow if the airport boosts the airline customer charges.
At an airlines conference in Westminster this week, British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group chief executive Luis Gallego said the hike in prices would push them to “reconsidering” its airlines’ use of Heathrow.
IAG is also the owner of the Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus and Spanish airline Iberia.
“Heathrow’s leading position is not inevitable. The reality is more than 40 per cent of the people who use Heathrow are connecting passengers … and could easily go via other, more competitive hubs.”
In late October, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced proposals for the next price control at the airport, seeing charges per passenger rise to £24.50 to £34.40, an increase from £22 in 2020.
The UK regulator said the hike in prices is for the continued investment in service quality while supporting consumer demand, despite significant opposition to the plans.
At the same conference, Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the CAA was enabling Heathrow to “shoot everyone in the foot” while the industry attempts to recover from the steep losses caused by the pandemic.
“By pushing up the charges to such a high level, you’re actually pushing people away from Heathrow, which will undermine significantly the recovery of the industry in the UK,” he said.
Heathrow Airport in London is British Airways’ main airport hub, operating from terminals three and five.
If the airline chooses to locate elsewhere, it would be a major damage to Heathrow’s profits and passenger traffic, on top of the £2 billion loss it saw in 2020 due to major border closures.
A spokesperson from Heathrow said it did not receive state aid given to other airports in Europe, and the price change would be an investment for passengers.
“Passengers know when they’re getting a raw deal,” she said. “A £10-15 increase in airport charges is not comparable to pushing up economy-class tickets to the US to over £2,000 this Christmas, which is what some airlines are doing.
“Heathrow passengers want a reliable, quality experience. Just as Aldi offers great food, plenty of Brits are still very happy to shop at Waitrose and appreciate the value for money they get.”
Meanwhile, chief executive Tim Alderslade of Airlines UK, the nation’s trade body, said this would threaten the airport’s expansion project.
Heathrow Airport is in the process of an expansion to build a third runway to the north-west of the existing two runways.
While the expansion will create thousands of jobs and boost the wider economy, locals and environmentalists have continued to oppose it for the increased pollution and noise levels the runway would produce.
But in late 2020, the Supreme Court reversed decisions to block plans for the runway, allowing the airport to continue with the project.
“Their inability to keep their charges under control will be the death of runway three,” said Alderslade.