Virgin Atlantic’s boss has vowed to work with other airlines and the International Air Transport Association (Iata) to fight Heathrow Airport’s bid to raise landing fees by 120 per cent, which he called an “abuse of power”.
Shai Weiss said the west London hub appeared to be operating as a “de facto monopolistic airport” as it sought to recuperate huge Covid-19 losses by charging carriers more per passenger.
In a speech at the Airlines 2022 conference in London on Monday, Mr Weiss was applauded by delegates as he called out Heathrow’s attempt to increase landing fees.
“Last year, already the most expensive airport in the world asked the CAA regulator [Civil Aviation Authority] for a 120 per cent price hike in per passenger charges,” he said. “Great for the airport and its mostly foreign shareholders but a bad deal for consumers, airlines and the UK economy.
“If we want a globally competitive aviation sector, that should simply not be allowed to happen,” he said.
“Together with British Airways, Iata and the wider airline community, we have fought long and hard to ensure the CAA uses its powers to ensure this would not happen and encourage the UK government to play closer attention to the abuse of power by a de facto monopolistic airport.”
The airport last year lost its bid to raise charges to its proposed level. Instead, the CAA gave permission in December 2021 for an increase from £19.60 to £30.19 for summer this year.
In June, the CAA ordered the airport to slash passenger charges each year until 2026.
The current fee per passenger at Heathrow is £30.19. The CAA has said this will fall to £26.31 by 2026 but the airport had been calling for an increase to £41.95.
Mr Weiss also urged the CAA to block Heathrow from imposing caps on the number of passengers that airlines can serve at the hub.
During the summer, the airport sparked a row with airlines over its decision to introduce a daily limit of 100,000 customers as it grappled with staff shortages.
Travel chaos at Heathrow - in pictures
Last month, Heathrow warned that it may reintroduce similar limits “on a small number of peak days in the lead-up to Christmas” to avoid travel chaos. It later ruled out caps over the festive season.
Mr Weiss insisted the airport must operate to full capacity as the aviation sector seeks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is not about just the next flight price control in four years’ time,” he told the conference.
“Everyone in this room will recognise the damage to consumer confidence that summer disruption caused. A repeat of this summer in 2023 is completely avoidable if honest and accurate passenger forecasts are used now for resource planning and building resilience.
“Heathrow is once again Europe's busiest airport, returning demand — whether it's Thanksgiving and Christmas or Easter 2023 — should come as no surprise and the CAA must not allow our hub airport to sleepwalk into another entirely avoidable period of disruption.”
The Virgin Atlantic boss said Heathrow must be “responsive and accountable to its customers” and “cannot be allowed to unilaterally restrict capacity”.
“We are ready to fly our programme and so should Heathrow,” he added.
Mr Weiss went on to thank the CAA for its “constructive engagement on Heathrow”. But he said the regulatory framework around the UK’s largest airport was "simply not working”.
“It is broken and must be reformed” and a new system should be ushered in to better balance the interests between shareholders and consumers, he said.