The boss of Heathrow has spoken out in favour of a shake-up in landing rights that would allow Virgin Atlantic to challenge British Airways’ dominance at the London hub.
The change would encourage greater competition by giving Virgin Atlantic more flights once the airport’s £6 billion third runway opens.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “The new runway presents a massive opportunity to lower fares, but we need a scale player that can compete with BA.
“To do to that there has to be a change in the slot rules,” he said at Heathrow after meeting with Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson prior to the carrier’s inaugural flight to Tel Aviv.
Virgin Atlantic last month set out ambitious plans to launch 84 new destinations and become the UK’s second flag carrier.
But the growth depends on the government agreeing to scrap a system under which airlines are awarded new take off and landing slots in proportion to current holdings. Virgin has fewer than 5% of Heathrow flights versus 55% at BA owner International Airlines Group
Virgin’s bank of slots will be bolstered with its involvement in the takeover of regional carrier Flybe, to be re-named Virgin Connect next year.
Holland-Kaye told Bloomberg he was confident Heathrow will still get a new landing strip even though prime minister Boris Johnson is a long-standing opponent expanding the airport.
Johnson sought to block the expansion when he was London mayor, pushing to close the airport and build a replacement hub in the Thames estuary.
Holland-Kay said: “I don’t see any problem. Boris Johnson is a democrat, and more people back the expansion than oppose it. And we have four to one support in parliament.”
Enlarging Heathrow will be a vital step in improving the UK’s trade links beyond the European Union once it leaves the bloc, Holland-Kaye added.
“Like most businesses we want certainty,” he said about the ongoing Brexit debate.
“It now seems that we are getting to a moment of clarity on that. We just want to get through this and move on.”
The UK economy is perfectly capable of thriving outside the EU, he said, adding: “When our backs are against the wall we come out fighting.”
An IAG spokeswoman said: “IAG welcomes competition but the facts speak for themselves – Virgin Atlantic’s lack of Heathrow routes is down to its own corporate strategy,” citing the cancelation of some routes the renting of slots to other airlines.
Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said separately that his company “is not on a crusade to do harm to BA,” and that its rival would still benefit from the lion’s share of new slots.
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