Virgin Atlantic could make a dramatic U-turn and return to Gatwick Airport (LGW) as early as next summer. Following the opening of the United States to international visitors earlier this month, Virgin Atlantic has noticed an increase in demand for long-haul travel and especially so to the United States.
Virgin Atlantic halted all operations out of Gatwick Airport (LGW) at the height of the pandemic. The move came despite Virgin Atlantic having its company headquarters just five miles down the road from the airport. It was also a severe blow to the local economy, with many Crawley-based Virgin Atlantic workers losing their jobs.
Virgin Atlantic could return to Gatwick before the summer
It is not just an increase in the number of people looking to fly again that prompts Virgin Atlantic to return to London’s second airport. A coalition of United Kingdom airports backed by low-cost carrier Wizz Air is asking the government to reimpose ‘Use it or Lose it’ airport slot rules to incentivize competitiveness. The “Use it or Lose it” rules demand that airlines must use 80% of their allocated take-off and landing slots, otherwise they run the risk of losing the slots in the following equivalent season.
Due to strict border restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 and a massive reduction in the number of people wanting to fly, the UK government suspended the “Use it or Lose it” rule. The decision was made so that airlines would not be forced to operate flights without any passengers to hold onto their valuable slots at key airports.
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Several airports and Wizz Air want the rule brought back
Following a successful vaccination campaign in the UK and what is expected to be a surge in travel next summer, Gatwick Airport, Belfast Airport, and Edinburgh Airport, together with Wizz Air, are lobbying transport secretary Grant Shapps to reimpose the rule. When speaking with City A.M. about the situation, Gatwick’s chief commercial officer, Jonathan Pollard, said:
“In our view, it’s imperative that the UK Government gets fully behind the recovery of the UK aviation sector by restoring the slot rules so that competition once again flourishes for both the benefit of industry and the consumer.”
Wizz Air’s UK managing director Marion Geoffroy echoed the remarks while saying that an ongoing suspension could bring an unfair advantage to competitors.
“We have been calling for the reinstatement of the 80:20 slot rules for some time and would strongly urge the UK Government to put these plans in place ready for the 2022 summer season,” she said. “It is simply wrong that some UK airlines should be allowed to hold onto these slots for another season if they have no intention of operating them.”
In reply to the comments a Department of Transport spokesperson said:
“We are due to consult on airport slots shortly and will set out firm plans for the summer 2022 season early next year.”
British Airways needs to decide what it wants to do with its Gatwick slots
British Airways is also under pressure to decide what it wants to do with its Gatwick slots. In September, the airline announced that it was stopping most of its short-haul flights out of Gatwick. The airline is laying plans to launch its own short haul airline out of the airport, but will need to move fast if the slot rule returns next summer.
As for Virgin Atlantic, they have a long history at Gatwick Airport, and with demand for long-haul flights expected to be high next summer, you can bet they are already planning their return to Gatwick Airport.
When reaching out to the airline for a comment, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson replied saying:
“As travel restrictions are eased in further markets, we continue to see growing consumer confidence, however the picture for international travel remains dynamic.
“The UK Government’s approach to slot alleviation during the pandemic has helped airlines better match supply with demand and provided vital operational flexibility during aviation’s greatest crisis. As the sector moves into recovery, it’s important that alleviation remains under consideration. We look forward to contributing to the DfT’s upcoming consultation on its approach for alleviation for the summer 2022 season.
“We maintain our ambition to rebuild our presence at Gatwick as demand returns, revisiting a long, close and successful relationship with the airport, beginning with our maiden flight from Gatwick in 1984.”
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