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EXCLUSIVE: British Airways could close Gatwick short-haul after BALPA pulls pilot ballot

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The British Airways plan to relaunch its short-haul operation at London Gatwick on a low cost model appeared to be on the verge of collapse last night.

BALPA, the British Airways pilot union, terminated a ballot of members after claiming that British Airways had gone back on assurances it had made.

The airline has previously said that it would not go ahead with the new carrier if it could not reach agreement with BALPA and could instead pull out of Gatwick short-haul flying entirely.

BA may close Gatwick after BALPA pulls pilot ballot

As we covered here, the cost of pilots for the new Gatwick operation represented one of the few areas where British Airways felt it could reduce costs.

BALPA would never have allowed the airline to hire new pilots on lower pay. The two sides had been working on a deal which would allow Heathrow Airbus pilots – some currently flying, some in the ‘holding pool’ – to be seconded to the new Gatwick airline. Whilst pay would have been reduced, in line with Gatwick’s more seasonal schedule, pilots would have retained their place on the seniority list and would have a guaranteed path to return to Heathrow in the future.

According to a letter circulated by BALPA last night, which we have seen:

“….. we have been trying to insert a clause in the contract of employment which would have protected the contractual rights of LGW-based pilots by placing an obligation on BA to ensure that Newco complies with any collective agreements or procedures agreed between BALPA and BA.”

In plain English, BALPA wanted Gatwick pilots to automatically receive any pay increase or other benefits negotiated by Heathrow crew.

BA may close Gatwick after BALPA pulls pilot ballot

BALPA claimed that British Airways had agreed to such an obligation but, when it came to making it legally binding, refused.

BALPA continued:

“we have received an email from BA making it clear that the company is not prepared to include the protection clause we require.”

and concludes:

“we can no longer recommend the proposed LGW shorthaul agreement. As such we have terminated the consultative ballot with immediate effect.”

It isn’t clear what happens next. British Airways won’t risk a pilot strike by recruiting a new pilot fleet on lower salaries for Gatwick. BALPA may be willing to see BA lose its Gatwick presence rather than see a split in the pilot fleet – after all, legacy cabin crew saw their pay reduced to nearer the level of newly hired Mixed Fleet in the restructuring last year.

Who blinks now? Will BA put the Gatwick slots on the market? Will BA agree to give Gatwick pilots the automatic right to new benefits given to Heathrow pilots? Will the LCC idea now be dropped and Gatwick short haul put back in its original state? Will the slots be given to Vueling – although that could also lead to a strike? We will see.


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Comments (84)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Pablo says:

    The concessions offered with regards to pay have been enormous. Equally the scheduling and training agreement changes are a chasm of where they should be. I sincerely think this actually sets back safety standards that were hard fought for over many years. It’s quite clear we want BA at LGW to succeed and nothing has been put in the way against that. The industry is on its knees. The amount of pilots without jobs is eye watering and deeply saddening. If what’s been said about verbal promises not being put into writing when the cuts being made are so deep, then at some stage you might have to step away. Is it really worth it? I can’t honestly say that a new BA operation at LGW will be a safe affair. It’s not about pay for the vast majority of us. If there is a sincere wish to work together, it can be done, and vastly to the benefit of the company. Over to them…

  • L. says:

    So the external headline says “close Gatwick”, but the article actually says “close Gatwick short-haul”. There is a big difference there, and I’m sure this wasn’t done by accident. The first one is more shocking, and it will attract more views. But it’s also inaccurate. It is very sad that a respected travel website thinks they need to do cheap clickbait tactics like this one, that add to the misinformation and stress of those directly or indirectly involved in the BA Gatwick operation, especially given that long haul is currently going and won’t be affected by the new subsidiary. Just sad, really.

    • Rob says:

      The headline says ‘short haul’ – look on Google News, Apple News etc.

      The tweet on Twitter says ‘short haul’.

      The clickable link on Facebook does not use the word ‘short haul’ but the phrase is in the line of text above it which everyone sees.

      It’s possibly the worst piece of clickbait ever written if that was the intention 🙂 I also don’t quite understand why you think I would want more page views for this topic. It is worthless to us, financially. We’re not going to sell any credit cards to someone who comes across to read this story, and such people are unlikely to become regular readers.

      All of the key adslots today are pre-sold for a fixed price so even 1 million page views today wouldn’t make us any extra ad revenue. If I was bothered about our bottom line I wouldn’t have run this and would have kept the Star Alliance credit card article which was originally meant to run there, which would have made us a few quid.

      • TB says:

        Actually, on my Google News feed, the headline doesn’t include the words “short haul”. I’ve been following the story though so I knew it would be about BA’s short haul operations.

        • Rob says:

          It depends where you look. In the dedicated HfP feed, the phrase ‘short haul’ does appear. The version that Google inserts into mixed feeds does seem to drop the ‘short haul’ text – I only just saw this (if Google doesn’t put it into my own feed, I don’t see how they run it).

    • MD says:

      Notwithstanding Rob’s comprehensive dismantling of your whining, the only thing ‘sad’ here seems to be your reading comprehension.

  • Paul Pogba says:

    Heathrow in dogfight with airlines over plans to double airport charges
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2021/09/18/heathrow-dogfight-airlines-plans-double-airport-charges/

    “Leaked proposals, seen by The Telegraph, reveal that long-haul charges will rocket from £38.33 per traveller this year to £67.86 in 2022.”

    Do the current negotiations with pilots at Gatwick make it harder for BA/IAG to fight this as they don’t have a credible threat to move (some) flights away from Heathrow?

  • fred says:

    Union prefer no jobs to any compromise, thank goodness BA is weak at LGW. Lets hope the union stranglehold at LHR can be endef.

  • Matarredondaaa says:

    I have long thought BA would be better served by dumping Gatwick short haul effectively closing the base and moving it to somewhere much cheaper, eg Stansted or Southend failing a southern base move north with Manchester conveniently situated to attract passengers from Scotland and the Midlands.
    The newco could be a genuine new project with many pilots currently operating out of LHR/LGW made redundant but able to apply for jobs at the newco if they wish.
    In this day and age to BA really need two bases so close together?

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