Virgin Atlantic boss withdraws support for Heathrow third runway and slams airport’s ‘monopoly position’

The chief executive of Virgin Atlantic has launched a stinging attack on the passenger charges at its main airport, London Heathrow, and said he no longer supports a third runway there.

Speaking at the Airlines 2022 event in London, Shai Weiss said: “Late last year, already the most expensive airport in the world asked the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] – its regulator – for a 120 per cent price hike in per passenger charges.

“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.”

Mr Weiss said that Virgin Atlantic had worked with British Airways and other airlines to urge the government “to pay closer attention to the abuse of power by a de facto monopolistic airport”.

He added that unless the “broken” system is reformed, “it is difficult to see how expansion at Heathrow can be supported.”

Shortly after the start of the Covid pandemic, Virgin Atlantic closed its original base at London Gatwick and consolidated its operations at Heathrow.

Mr Weiss also raised what he called “the damage to consumer confidence that summer disruption caused”. Staff shortage at Heathrow and other UK airports led to widespread delays and cancellations.

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.

“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.”

During the summer Heathrow imposed a daily cap of 100,000 passengers on departing passengers.

The airport says higher charges are necessary to enhance facilities.

A spokesperson for Heathrow 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.

“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.”

Speaking later at the same event, Heathrow’s chief executive called on ministers to lessen the tax burden on aviation. John Holland-Kaye said Air Passenger Duty (APD) levied on passengers leaving Heathrow immediately before the pandemic totalled £2bn, the same as the airport’s earning from aviation charges.

Heathrow’s CEO said: “We cannot keep milking the aviation sector forever.

“The UK has its back to the wall at the moment.”

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