British Airways (BA) is reportedly planning to open a cheap airline that will operate from Gatwick to compete with Ryanair and EasyJet. This new airline would relaunch BA’s short-haul services at London Gatwick after it pushed all European flights to Heathrow at the height of the Covid pandemic that hit the entire world last spring.
The new subsidiary will come in handy while competing with rival budget airlines like Wizzair, Ryanair, and EasyJet. A “BA Lite” operation is currently underway to help the airline make the Sussex airport profitable after BA suspended domestic and European routes that serve Gatwick during the pandemic.
It coincides with the ending of the government’s furlough scheme in September with new British Airways chief executive, Sean Doyle, hoping to minimize costs to make BA competitive once more.
The airline has now launched consultations with trades unions informing them that change is important in case British Airways is to return to the Sussex airport at scale. However, the move might put the IAG-owned carrier on a collision course with the unions in case staff are put on some less generous contracts.
One internal letter to the staff, seen by PA news agency, read:
“This was previously a highly competitive market, but for us to run a sustainable airline in the current environment, we need a competitive operating model.”
“Because of that, we are proposing a new operating subsidiary to run alongside our existing long-haul Gatwick operation, to serve short-haul routes to/from Gatwick from summer 2022.”
“This will help us to be both agile and competitive, allowing us to build a sustainable short-haul presence at Gatwick over time.”
The letter also said that the cautious approach of governments has now undermined client confidence and means the recovery of air travel “remains far behind where we need it to be”.
Employees were informed that the airline’s pay costs will speedily increase once the United Kingdom’s furlough scheme ends on September 30, which is quite some “bad news”.
This message said that British Airways’ schedule and operating costs for the rest of the year “will not line up”. It stated:
“We believe that this will be a temporary problem, but it’s a serious one which we need to manage. This means we’re going to have to be as flexible as possible when it comes to the way we work, to help mitigate the situation over the coming months.”
BA confirmed in a statement that it is working with the unions on proposals for a short-haul operation at Gatwick. Some people have informally referred to the venture as “BA Lite”. Other possible names include British Airways Express, which mirrors Iberia Express – the lower-cost offshoot of BA’s Spanish sister airline.
The airline might start operations at the beginning of the next summer season in late March 2022, just in time for the Easter school holidays. The acting general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, Martin Chalk, said:
“Balpa cautiously welcomes this decision to restart BA short-haul operations at London Gatwick and create a number of much-needed new pilot jobs. Balpa and BA are in the final stages of negotiations over the revised pay and conditions for Gatwick-based BA pilots and we hope to bring these talks to a conclusion shortly.”
IAG already has multiple low-cost airlines including Vueling together with long-haul specialist Level. British Airways itself create a budget brand, Go, in 1998 as it tried to fight off Ryanair and EasyJet but sold it about three years later.
In 2021, BA reported a 70% drop in yearly revenue that pushed it to a £3.9billion operating loss. On August 25 Gatwick unveiled a £500 million plan to build a permanent second runway by widening the main taxiway.