Precious landing slots at Heathrow that had been “ring fenced” for Scottish routes are being redeployed by British Airways to open new routes to Spain, Italy and France – leaving Scotland with one million fewer seats a year.
When BA bought its rival BMI, it was forced to hand nine daily slot pairs specifically for use on routes connecting Heathrow with Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
The so-called “remedy slots” had been used by BMI to operate flights from Heathrow to Scotland, and were taken up by Virgin Atlantic, which ran them for two years under the “Little Red” brand. But last month Virgin threw in the towel after sustaining heavy losses.
As a result, the slots revert to BA, which is using them to launch routes to Menorca, Biarritz and Palermo – as opposed to the “emerging markets” in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are often cited in support of a third runway at Heathrow.
The flights begin next April and May, along with increases in the number of departures to long-established destinations such as Berlin, Stockholm and Venice. They follow a pattern that British Airways has established over the past few summers of serving a range of holiday destinations from its main business airports, Heathrow and London City, during the summer.
The airline is believed to be testing out the latest routes for possible long-term operations, rather than commit to another long-haul destination from Europe’s busiest airport.
If another contender were to come forward for the “remedy slots”, BA would be obliged to hand them over. It is difficult to see, though, an airline that could make a success where Virgin Atlantic failed.
The two most successful low-cost airlines in Europe are Ryanair and easyJet. Ryanair has said it has no interest in flying to and from Heathrow. And while Britain’s biggest low-cost airline, easyJet, has pledged to fly from Heathrow to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness, it depends on the Airports Commission recommendation of a third runway at the airport going ahead.
BA has also announced that it will restart services from Gatwick to New York after a gap of seven years. The airline will compete against its low-cost rival, Norwegian, on the route to JFK and has chosen timings that closely match its competitor. Opening fares start at £390 return.
The airline is to transfer its Las Vegas flights from Gatwick to Heathrow in April next year.