BALPA, the British Airways pilot union, has just released the result of its ballot into whether the pilot body should support the new BA low cost carrier at London Gatwick.
Despite the proposal being only marginally better than the one originally rejected, pilots have approved it by a huge majority.
(EDIT: this article has been updated since original publication to reflect later developments)
The result was:
Question: “Do you accept the revised LGW shorthaul “Newco” draft agreement?”
Yes – 82%
No – 18%
Turnout – 75%
Following publication of the result, British Airways and BALPA formally signed the deal under which pilots would work for the new company. British Airways is now liaising with other stakeholders with the intent to relaunch short haul flights at Gatwick.
British Airways provided the following statement:
“We will now further develop our proposal to provide a full-service short-haul subsidiary operation at Gatwick, offering competitive fares to our customers.
We will continue discussions with our colleagues, trade unions, suppliers and other stakeholders, following this positive result, and if we can agree a way forward with all parties, we would hope to begin operations next summer.”
What will British Airways at Gatwick look like?
Following the original announcement on its intentions to establish a new Gatwick subsidiary, British Airways confirmed that the new airline will look and feel identical to any other British Airways flight:
“From a customer experience perspective the new airline will be British Airways branded and customers will continue to benefit from the same full standard of service that they currently receive from us, alongside competitive fares.”
That means that you can expect lounge access and other status benefits to continue, as well as recently re-introduced free water and snacks in economy.
The cost savings are likely to occur behind the scenes, where British Airways might be able to employ cabin crew, ground staff and other airport support staff at a cheaper rate than it can with the main British Airways staff.
Why is British Airways introducing a new airline?
As we have previously reported, British Airways claims that Gatwick was a loss making operation for British Airways even during the peak summer months in 2019. In its original statement to staff, British Airways management said:
“As you know, we haven’t been operating short haul flights at Gatwick during the pandemic. 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.“
Whilst the long haul flights from Gatwick were profitable, British Airways was losing tens of millions of pounds on its short haul flights.
Despite being unprofitable, BA would not have wanted to pull out of the airport completely – that would have given its competitors such as easyJet a further foothold in the London airport which BA would be loathe to do. The operation of Gatwick flights was likely a strategic move to prevent easyJet dominating and becoming an even greater threat.
Why does British Airways need pilot approval?
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.
The original deal fell through recently when British Airways would not guarantee in writing that Gatwick pilots would see their pay rise in line with their Heathrow colleagues.
What happens next?
Now that the deal has been signed it is highly likely that British Airways will return to Gatwick from April 2022.
BA would start with a smaller presence at first than it had in 2019, with up to 17 A320 family aircraft based at the airport next summer, increasing over 3-4 years. This would allow it to grow sustainably as passengers return to travelling over the coming period but it is substantially less than the 31+ aircraft stationed at Gatwick in 2019, according to travel analytics company Cirium.
Almost all Gatwick flights in 2022 have been transferred to Heathrow in the past weeks. It’s likely that British Airways will move back the flights it wants to retain at Gatwick under the same flight numbers, although some will need to remain at Heathrow given the smaller fleet that will now be based at Gatwick.
A lot of work still remains for British Airways – for a start, it will need to secure a new operating licence for the subsidiary airline. Progress will need to be made quickly if BA wants to restart Gatwick flights in April 2022.