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Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines chiefs slam Heathrow charges

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss has hit out at Heathrow over this year’s hike in the airport’s landing charges and the Civil Aviation Authority for allowing the increase.

Weiss described the 56% increase in Heathrow’s charges to carriers from January as “egregious” and suggested it could drive passengers to fly via alternative hubs such as Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

But at the same time Weiss said he had no immediate plans for Virgin Atlantic to return to London’s second airport, Gatwick, despite retaining slots at the airport at which it ceased operating in 2020 due to the pandemic.

He insisted Virgin and other airlines had not given up on their campaign for the CAA to cap future increases in charges at Heathrow.

The CAA granted Heathrow permission to raise its charges to airlines from £19.60 per passenger to £30.19 for this year while the regulator considers a settlement of the charging regime for the next five years to 2027.

Heathrow had sought to increase the charges by more as it looks to fund investment and recoup the losses of the past two years.

Weiss said: “The 56% increase the CAA has given Heathrow is way, way too high. It’s unwarranted. The charges are egregious. The CAA’s job is to protect consumers.

“The decision to delay setting the charges till 2027 until after the summer as right. We’re making our case on behalf of consumers. We’ve not given up.”

Ed Bastian, president and chief executive of Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic’s part owner and transatlantic join-venture partner, agreed: “Heathrow is a very expensive airport.”

He said: “We’re an industry coming off a very difficult time. Charges seen as extreme are not helpful. Customers have choices.

“Are Heathrow’s charges deterring people from coming to London? Potentially.”

Virgin Atlantic pulled out of Gatwick to focus its operations on Heathrow at the height of the pandemic when it was fighting to survive after being denied access to a government-backed loan.

Weiss said it had been “a big decision” to cease operating at Gatwick, adding: “We still have slots at Gatwick and we would like to think there are opportunities at Gatwick, but not this year.”

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