LONDON – Despite its application for 14-daily takeoff and landing slots being rejected, Britain’s biggest LCC easyJet (U2) hopes to start operating services out of London Heathrow (LHR).

As it stands, the airline’s main London base is Gatwick (LGW). The LCC also has a large operation out of Luton (LTN), the location of U2’s headquarters.

The airline has previously mentioned that it plans a big presence at LHR following the construction of the airport’s controversial third runway. However, as any major expansion at the airport was delayed beyond this year, U2 is now actively seeking slots at LHR amid “the current industry landscape.”

Easyjet G-EZMH. Photo: Mark Harkin

A Failed Attempt

London Heathrow has no control over the airlines that operate from the airport. Slots are assigned externally by Airport Coordination Ltd (ACL). ACL is an independent body that follows complex rules on allocation of arguably some of the most sought-after slots in European aviation.

In the latest round of slot requests for summer 2021, U2 requested a total of 98 slots per week, allowing 14 takeoffs and landings per day. Only regional carrier Loganair (LM) requested more slots. LM claimed that its number of slot requests was justified as the airline is increasing its regional capability around the UK.

However, both carriers were unsuccessful in their bidding for slots. Of the thousands of slots airlines bid for, only four were granted to the Chinese Shenzhen Airlines (ZH).

Following the decision, a U2 spokesperson told The Independent, “As Heathrow is one of the very few top 50 airports in Europe where we don’t currently operate, we remain interested in potentially starting operations there as we believe we could lower prices and bolster competition at the airport.”

It was also added “Given the current industry landscape, we wanted to explore if this would provide opportunity for available slots at Heathrow. While this hasn’t been possible this time, we will continue to look for opportunities across Europe’s slot constrained airports as they arise.”

Photo: LHR.

Congestion Problems

As a budget airline, U2 relies on the ability to turn flights around with as little as 25 minutes between an aircraft pulling on to stand and pushing back. LHR is usually Europe’s busiest airport and with only two runways, congestion proves a constant problem that leads to a slew of issues for low-cost carrier’s fast turnarounds.

The airline’s initial plan was to set up a large operation at LHR’s Terminal 4, the former home to British Airways (BA), with 30 aircraft based there. These 30 aircraft would be operating as many as 200 flights per day, including flights to Aberdeen (ABZ), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Inverness (INV), and Newcastle (NCL).

The carrier claimed it could cut average fares by up to 30% and planned to be “operating from an expanded Heathrow from 2026.”

The airline has previously said that between 2000 and 2017, LHR’s passenger numbers grew by 21%. However, there was also a 13% decline in European seats and a 40% fall in domestic seats. The airline said, “Routes today remain dominated by expensive, inefficient flag carriers.”

easyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said, “easyJet’s costs are significantly lower than legacy airlines so easyJet’s fares on these services would be lower than those paid by passengers today.” U2 still remains one of the only LCCs to apply for slots at LHR. Neither Ryanair (FR) or Jet2 (LS) applied for slots.

featured image: easyJet