Will Gatwick Airport Really Miss Virgin Atlantic?

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On Wednesday, embattled Virgin Atlantic confirmed that it would be closing its base at London Gatwick Airport as part of its road map to recovery post-COVID-19. Ever since its founding in 1984, the Crawley-based airline has called Gatwick Airport home. However, it has now has decided to leave, posing the question will Gatwick Airport miss Virgin Atlantic?

Virgin Atlantic, gatwick Getty
Virgin Atlantic is leaving Gatwick after 36 years. Photo: Getty Images

With Virgin Atlantic deciding to pull the plug, the future of Gatwick Airport as an alternative airport to London Heathrow has come into question after British Airways and Norwegian Air both said they are considering leaving Gatwick too.

Virgin Atlantic has been flying out of Gatwick for 36 years

Regarding Virgin Atlantic’s decision to abandon its West Sussex base, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss told the BBC:

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“We have weathered many storms since our first flight 36 years ago, but none has been as devastating as Covid-19 and the associated loss of life and livelihood for so many.”

When responding to the news and the realization that as many as 3,000 jobs could go, British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) general secretary, Brian Strutton is quoted by Yahoo Finance as saying:

“Our members and all staff in Virgin Atlantic will be shocked by the scale of this bombshell. We will be challenging Virgin very hard to justify this.”

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Virgin Atlantic, Boeing 747, Retirement
Up to 3,000 jobs will be lost at Gatwick following Virgin Atlantic’s departure. Photo: Getty Images

In its response to the news Gatwick Airport issued a statement also carried by Yahoo Finance which said the company was very saddened by the news saying:

“Virgin Atlantic will always be welcome at Gatwick, and we will continue our efforts to explore ways to restart the airline’s operations as soon as possible, in the knowledge that they intend to retain their slot portfolio at Gatwick for when demand returns.”

easyJet led Gatwick capacity in February

Currently, Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is scrambling to try and find investors to keep the airline afloat, while Gatwick lives in the hope that Virgin may one day return. Due to the coronavirus, outbreak only a few airlines are flying out of Gatwick Airport. However, that is likely to increase in July once easyJet, Ryanair and other low-cost carriers begin to ramp up flights.

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When we look at the airlines flying out of Gatwick before the COVID-19 crisis brought everything to a virtual stop, we can see that travel industry data and analytics website Cirium lists Virgin Atlantic as being the fifth biggest operator out of Gatwick.

In terms of seat capacity in February, the percentage was as follows:

  • 38% easyJet
  • 17% British Airways
  • 13% Norwegian
  • 5% TUI Airways
  • 4% Vueling
  • 4% Ryanair

Compared to the year before, seating capacity was down 11.6 percent, but this was due to the collapse of Thomas Cook, Flybe, and WOW Air. These airlines accounted for 140 scheduled flights per week.

Other airlines can capitalize

Some good news for Gatwick is that Budapest-based Wizz Air is considering upping its presence at the United Kingdom’s second busiest airport,

In terms of seats available, per the schedule, Wizz Air’s capacity at Gatwick in February 2020 more than doubled compared with the same month a year earlier. Last week, The Hungarian low-cost carrier announced its intent to secure ownership of further operating slots. Altogether, it wants to ‘build a base’ at Gatwick Airport.

Wizz Air
Wizz Air is the fastest-growing airline at Gatwick. Photo: Getty Images

When we look at data issued by Ciricum, we see that rather than British Airways and Norwegian Air, it is lesser-known carriers that are increasing seats at Gatwick. Looking at last year Cirium lists the fastest-growing airlines at Gatwick as being:

  • Wizz Air – 269%
  • Air China – 136%
  • Air Malta – 43%
  • WestJet – 34%
  • Belavia – 33%

Conclusion

While the loss of Virgin Atlantic will be hard to swallow, Gatwick Airport will survive and grow once the coronavirus is under control. Heathrow is already at max capacity, and the price of slots at London’s busiest airport fetching a premium. Therefore, Gatwick can lure airlines that are looking to fly to London by offering incentives.

Do you think that Virgin Atlantic leaving Gatwick will be devastating for the airport? Or is it just a bump in the road? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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