September 25, 2023

Virgin Atlantic boss hits out at ‘de facto monopolistic’ Heathrow

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss has slammed London Heathrow for wanting to hike passenger charges by 120% and restricting flight capacity.

Speaking at the Airlines 2022 Conference in London on Monday, he said Virgin cannot support a third runway while Heathrow is focussed on generating “excessive dividends” for shareholders

Weiss said Virgin, along with British Airways, IATA and the wider airline community, has “fought long and hard” to encourage the UK Government to pay closer attention to the “abuse of power by a de facto monopolistic airport”.

“This is not just about the next price control period in four years’ time. Everyone in this room will recognise the damage to consumer confidence that summer disruption caused,” he said.

“A repeat of this in summer 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, Christmas or Easter 2023 – should come as no surprise and the CAA must not allow our only hub airport to sleepwalk into another entirely avoidable period of disruption.”

He said Heathrow should be “responsive and accountable to its customers” and cannot be allowed to “unilaterally restrict capacity”.

“We are ready to fly the full programme and so should they,” he added.

He said the despite the challenges, UK air travel recovery stands at almost 70% of 2019 levels, with passenger numbers at Heathrow likely to hit 62 million compared to 81 million in 2019.

This compares with a slower recovery for international travel, which has returned to a little over 66% of 2019 levels.

Weiss said the regulatory framework and process in the UK is “simply not working”.

“It is broken and must be reformed. It must better balance the interests of airport shareholders with those of passengers and consumers,” he said.

“It must incentivise Heathrow’s owners to deliver an airport that is priced fairly and open to competition, focussed on delivering a quality experience for airlines and their passengers, rather than excessive dividends for shareholders.

“Until that is achieved, it is difficult to see how expansion at Heathrow can be supported.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “To deliver the airport service passengers expect, two things are needed: for our regulator to give us the ability to invest in the airport; and for all the operators at the airport to work together building back capacity. These are our focus right now.

“Our efforts are firmly directed towards the constructive engagement and collaboration with the regulator and with the airlines to deliver great service for passengers this Christmas and into next year.”