British Airways pilots are to vote on whether to back a proposed new subsidiary at Gatwick, which the airline says will be a full-service, BA-branded carrier.
The airline plans to base up to 17 short-haul planes at the UK’s second-biggest airport from next summer, but insists it needs to have a lower cost base to compete with budget rivals such as easyJet, which is dominant at Gatwick.
BA has not flown from Gatwick since the beginning of the pandemic. It made thousands of workers redundant and issued inferior contracts to remaining staff last year as it suffered record losses, with passenger numbers dwindling under Covid travel restrictions. Gatwick employees had long retained traditional terms and conditions that BA had removed from crew joining at Heathrow from 2011.
According to BA, its Gatwick short-haul business was not profitable even at the peak of flying in 2019. In a statement, the airline said: “While we want to restart flying short-haul from Gatwick, we will only do this if we have a competitive and sustainable operating cost base.
“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.
“These two principles are at the heart of our proposals for a short-haul operation which are subject to ongoing union discussions and a Balpa ballot.”
Balpa, the pilots’ union, has recommended that its members back the plan in a consultative ballot. BA argues that it will protect more jobs at Gatwick, although terms and conditions for staff are likely to be largely reduced from pre-pandemic levels.
The airline has made clear it is not launching a “no-frills” service after recent speculation led to derision from Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, who described the venture as “the very definition of insanity”.