In For The Long-Haul: What Does Gatwick’s Future Hold?

Gatwick Airport has a lot on its hands. The London airport seeks to use its ‘standby’ runway for regular movements to increase passenger volume. It is grappling with British Airways potentially ending short-haul flying. And Wizz Air is chomping at the bit for more slots. The author caught up with Jonathan Polland, Gatwick’s Chief Commercial Officer, to discuss these things and more. But firstly, the airport’s long-haul operation and hopes are examined.

Emirates Boeing 777-300ER
Emirates will resume Gatwick on December 10th. The day before, British Airways will begin Doha, partly to feed partner Qatar Airways. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

JetBlue is a “perfect model”

JetBlue launched New York JFK to Gatwick on September 29th, the hybrid airline’s second route to Europe. At 3,015 nautical miles, Gatwick currently operates four-weekly using the 138-seat A321LR, but it’ll rise to seven-weekly from the end of October. JetBlue is the only carrier now connecting Gatwick and JFK non-stop.

We were very committed to getting JetBlue,” Pollard told the author at World Routes. “It’s a huge sign that they came here, and it’s so very welcome after a torrid year.” Despite short-term challenges, Gatwick to the US is a proven market. In 2019, 3.8 million seats were available to 15 destinations across five airlines, OAG schedules data indicates. As Pollard said:

“JetBlue has a game-changing product and it’s the classic opportunity to undercut established airlines, especially in business class [from Heathrow]. I expect JetBlue to increase frequency to JFK next year.”

JetBlue Gatwick2
Pollard expects JetBlue to increase Gatwick flights next year. Photo: via JetBlue.

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Could Virgin Atlantic be returning to Gatwick?

Pollard suggested that it was “reasonably likely” that Virgin Atlantic will return to Gatwick. This followed the carrier’s decision to consolidate at Heathrow, a decision taken in May 2020 to attempt to safeguard its future as other cost-cutting measures hadn’t been sufficient.

Virgin ended 36 years of serving Gatwick. In 2019, the carrier was Gatwick’s third-largest long-haul operator with a network spanning 10 destinations across the US, Mexico, and Caribbean. Virgin is keen to return to its core markets.

Gatwick's long-haul development
This looks at long-haul markets, defined as over 2,600 nautical miles (about 3,000 statute miles). No prizes for guessing when Norwegian began! (2017.) Source of data: OAG.

Growth in point-to-point VFR markets

Pollard singled out the possibility of more point-to-point visiting friends and relatives (VFR) markets, such as India and Pakistan. VFR markets have remained highly resilient overall.

British Airways and Virgin launched Islabamad and Lahore from Heathrow during the pandemic, routes that might be better served from Gatwick given lower charges to counteract the fact that most VFR markets are low-yielding. Pollard more or less ruled out startup Pop which is expected to fly from Stansted when it launches.

“Long-haul is as a strong a market as it was before the pandemic. And it’ll be strong going forward, especially with the increased charges at Heathrow which will make the airport incredibly costly and give Gatwick a bigger cost advantage.”

Virgin Pakistan
Virgin launched Pakistan during the pandemic. Image: via Virgin Atlantic.

Norse Atlantic is likely to fly from Gatwick

Startup Norse Atlantic is “very keen to serve London,” Pollard said. This is no surprise. The carrier is being created to benefit from the long-haul gap left by Norwegian, which decided to concentrate on its core short-haul Nordic operation. Gatwick was very much Norwegian’s largest European long-haul airport with 17 routes in 2019, almost all to the US.

Norse Atlantic Airways, Branding, Livery
Pollard says that Norse Atlantic wouldn’t serve Stewart from Gatwick. Photo: Norse Atlantic Airways.

In late September, Norse Atlantic applied to operate from Olso to Fort Lauderdale, Stewart, and Ontario, a curious mixture of secondary airports for Miami, New York, and Los Angeles respectively.

Yet despite this apparent focus on less congested and less expensive airports, which could be to hoodwink competitors, Pollard is convinced that “Norse Atlantic will serve JFK rather than Stewart” from Gatwick.

What do you make of Gatwick’s long-haul ambition and future? Where would you like to see served and by whom? Let us know in the comments.