BA abandons plans for short-haul subsidiary airline at Gatwick

Proposals for BA-branded subsidiary ditched after pilots refuse to back deal between airline and union

British Airways is abandoning plans for a short-haul, BA-branded subsidiary at Gatwick after pilots refused to back a deal between the airline and union.

BA suspended operations at the UK’s second-biggest airport at the start of the pandemic, and said it could only relaunch short-haul services if it could lower its cost base – including staff terms and conditions.

It intends to run only a skeleton schedule of domestic feeder flights at Gatwick from next year. The BA chief executive, Sean Doyle, has said he would consider selling the slots to rivals, although analysts believe it is more likely they will be deployed to other parts of the airline’s parent group, IAG.

The national carrier had initially won the backing of leaders of the pilots union Balpa to push ahead with proposals for a BA-branded subsidiary, with up to 17 planes based at the Sussex airport. However, Balpa dropped its recommendation and scrapped the ballot needed to ratify the deal after consulting more broadly with pilots.

A BA spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed that our plans for a new short-haul subsidiary at Gatwick have not received Balpa’s support. After many years of losing money on European flights from the airport, we were clear that coming out of the pandemic, we needed a plan to make Gatwick profitable and competitive.

“With regret, we will now suspend our short-haul operations at Gatwick, with the exception of a small number of domestic services connecting to our long-haul operation, and will pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short-haul slots.”

Balpa’s acting general secretary, Martin Chalk, said: “We are disappointed that we couldn’t come to arrangements that were acceptable to our members. We stand ready to work with BA to find such arrangements that could be acceptable.”

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It is understood union negotiators were sworn to secrecy in initial talks, and could only sound out the wider membership after recommending the deal, with most pilots proving not to be in favour. The airline made thousands of workers redundant last year and slashed pay and conditions for many more after Covid and travel restrictions led to record losses.

In a letter to pilots, BA’s chief operating officer, Jason Mahoney, said: “We believed we could build a competitive BA-branded short-haul operation out of Gatwick. But to make this happen, we would have to turn a loss-making operation into a profitable one.

“We will now pursue alternative uses for the London Gatwick short-haul slots. I say this with sadness because a competitive Gatwick short-haul operation next summer would have been good for our business as we try to recover and pay back the debts that the pandemic has necessitated.”

Contributor

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

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