Supporting Heathrow’s expansion will be difficult until the west London hub can provide a quality service to airlines and passengers, according to Virgin Atlantic’s boss Shai Weiss.
The airport’s expansion plans – which include building a third runway – were backed by former Prime Minister Liz Truss as well as then-transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
“[The regulatory framework] must incentivise Heathrow’s owners to deliver an airport that is priced fairly and open to competition, focused on delivering a quality experience for airlines and their passengers rather than excessive dividends for shareholders,” the airline executive told a London conference on Monday.
“Until that is achieved, it is difficult to see how expansion at Heathrow can be supported.”
Weiss’s comments were shared by aviation veteran Willie Walsh, who said Heathrow remained a major problem and that it should have been criticised harder for this summer’s disruption.
“I think the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) could have been more vocal in criticising Heathrow for their performance,” Walsh – a former chief executive of BA’s owner IAG and now at the head of airline trade body IATA – said.
Virgin Atlantic’s remarks come amid a long-standing row between carriers and Heathrow over the passenger price cap the airport can charge its airline customers.
The £30.19 interim cap was set in December last year by the UK’s aviation regulator to help the airport recover from the impact of Covid.
Since then, the airport has regained its status as Europe’s busiest airport and posted a profit before tax of £643m. It also expects passenger numbers to increase between 60 and 62 million.
“If we want a globally competitive aviation sector, that [Heathrow’s cap] should simply not be allowed to happen,” Weiss added.
According to the chief executive, Heathrow should also make sure that disruption and delays seen this summer never happen again.
To ensure smoother operations, the airport was forced to cap the number of daily departing passengers at 100,000 until the end of October.
“A repeat of this in summer 2023 is completely avoidable if honest and accurate forecasts are used now for resource planning and building resilience,” the airline boss explained.
This is not the first time Weiss has called on the west London hub, as earlier this month the chief executive warned the airport to be ready for the peak winter period.
“We intend to fly and to serve our passengers and we expect Heathrow to do exactly the same,” Weiss told City A.M.
Heathrow recently announced it will not introduce a passenger cap during the peak winter period.
An airport spokesperson said: “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.”