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Row emerges over Heathrow plan to ring fence slots to expand domestic flights

A row has emerged between British Airways and Heathrow over the airport’s hopes to increase domestic flights once it gets a third runway.

Heathrow has written to the government asking it to “ring-fence” a proportion for domestic flights of the extra take-off and landing slots created.

But BA has hit out at the plan, saying that the airport does not have any standing to control destinations served by the slots, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“It’s not in Heathrow’s gift to increase domestic flying from the airport,” said BA’s owner, International Airlines Group.

“Airlines, not airports, decide where to fly based on routes’ profitability.”

BA is based at Heathrow and has about half of the take off and landing slots currently available.

The airline called for competitive fees to encourage flights at Heathrow, adding: “The best way to encourage domestic routes is for the airport to be fairly priced.

“It’s hard to make routes viable if airlines are charged more at Heathrow than any other airport. If costs are low, flights will follow.”

Heathrow handles almost 76 million passengers a year and about 470,000 flights, making it the busiest airport in Europe and the seventh busiest in the world.

If the plans to add the third runway go ahead, the airport is expected to see flights increase to more than 700,000 a year.

Currently, only 6% of passengers travel on domestic flights from Heathrow to eight UK destinations, though this could soar if plans go ahead to add more UK services.

The airport is only able to ask for the slots to be earmarked because of Brexit, as once the UK leaves the European Union it will not be controlled by the bloc’s competition rules.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that an expanded Heathrow must deliver for all of Britain and that’s why we’re urging the government to back our proposal to ring-fence slots at an expanded Heathrow for domestic use, an opportunity now possible because Britain is leaving the EU.”

The row followed foreign secretary and former London mayor Boris Johnson claiming a third runway is “not the right solution” for airport expansion.

The long-term critic of Heathrow expansion was quoted by ITV News as saying an additional runway at the London hub would be “very difficult to deliver” despite the Conservative election manifesto backing development of the airport.

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