Airlines including British Airways could reduce the number of flights they operate from Heathrow airport if the London hub’s proposed passenger charge increase goes ahead.
The airport proposed raising its £19.80 per-passenger charge to as much as £43 in the new year, but the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has capped the amount at £30 initially from January, while negotiating a new rate that is expected to fall between £24.50 and £34.40.
Speaking at the Airlines 2021 event, Luis Gallego – chief executive of the BA’s parent company, IAG – said that the proposed increase was damaging to the recovery of the UK travel sector, saying “we need to attract demand to stay competitive”.
“Hiking charges will not help. It will not attract demand – it will have the opposite effect,” said Gallego.
He pointed to the number of passengers simply transiting through Heathrow rather than travelling into the UK, saying that many would simply choose to fly via other international hubs.
Gallego said the west London airport’s fees are already among the highest in the world and are becoming “more and more expensive”.
“If the rise in landing charges goes ahead, I know IAG will not be alone in reconsidering our airlines’ use of Heathrow,” he warned.
Other IAG airlines include Iberia and Aer Lingus, but British Airways is based at Heathrow and has the most flights in and out of the airport.
In defence of the plans, a Heathrow spokesperson compared the airport to the supermarket Waitrose, saying: “Just as Aldi offers great food, plenty of Brits are still very happy to shop at Waitrose and appreciate the value for money they get.”
“Heathrow passengers want a reliable, quality experience. The higher charge will enable us to deliver key investments in the next five years to protect passenger service,” they added.
Mr Gallego’s predecessor, Willie Walsh, told the same event that the UK’s aviation sector risks “shooting everybody in the foot” by allowing Heathrow to hike charges, as passengers “have an option to go somewhere else”.
Mr Walsh, who is now director-general of airline trade body the International Air Transport Association, added: “You can make a strong case that not only should airport charges not go up, but in fact I think you could argue that they could come down and Heathrow could continue to be fully financed.”