British Airways gains 86 weekly Heathrow slots from Flybe – what happens next?
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Back in April 2021, the ‘new’ Flybe Mark 2 picked up 86 weekly Heathrow slots (43 pairs) from British Airways.
These were to be used initially for flights to Aberdeen and Edinburgh, although that later changed.
Last week, with Flybe Mark 2 dead and buried, these slots returned to British Airways. Let’s look at what may happen next.
It’s a long story ….
This is one of the longest sagas in UK aviation. It has been running since 2012 and shows no sign of being concluded for good at any time soon.
The story behind all this goes back to the acquisition of bmi British Midland by British Airways. The European Commission insisted that British Airways release a number of Heathrow slot pairs to any competitor which wished to begin services on selected routes where bmi competed with British Airways at Heathrow.
The routes with competition concerns were:
Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s short haul airline, was the first airline to ask for – and receive – slots. It used them to fly to Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Little Red also flew to Manchester but this used spare Virgin Atlantic slots.
When Little Red folded in 2014, the slots returned to British Airways.
The slots were then requested by Flybe Mark 1, again for use on Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
There were two carrots in the rules for whichever airline came in:
- after one full year of operation, the airline could ask for additional slots from British Airways which could be used on ANY European short haul route as long as not all of the 12 daily slot pairs to be divested had been allocated (this is how Flybe Mark 1 got slots for some of its other Heathrow services)
- after three full years of operation, the airline could stop serving cities on the prescribed list (ie Edinburgh and Aberdeen, in Flybe’s case) and start serving other European destinations instead
It looks like the second point above had kicked in, because some of the slots returned had been most recently allocated to Newquay, Amsterdam, Newcastle and Belfast. This would imply that the one year and three year clocks had not reset when Flybe Mark 1 went bankrupt and Flybe Mark 2 took on the slots.
It is not fully clear what happens now.
The agreement between IAG and the European Commission is here. I cannot see any obvious reference to it ‘timing out’.
Can another airline still request these 43 weekly slots from British Airways to fly to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Nice, Cairo, Riyadh or Moscow? Or, 11 years on, is this finally over with British Airways finally allowed to keep the slots and use them for whatever it wants (and pocket an attractive windfall, given their value)?
It also isn’t clear how the ‘use it or lose it’ rule will be applied here. Even if BA starts flying each slot between now and the end of the Winter season in late March, will they hit the 80% utilisation target to avoid it being forfeited? With no Flybe flights for the last three weeks, the slots have been unused for over 10% of the current flying season and who knows if Flybe had been running them all at 100% capacity before that?
Here is the Airport Coordination form, dated 16th February, which shows the transfer back to BA from Flybe – with Part 2 here.
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