Virgin Atlantic No Longer in Favor of Third Heathrow Runway
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Virgin Atlantic No Longer in Favor of Third Heathrow Runway

DALLAS — Virgin Atlantic (VS) CEO Shai Weiss took a backseat regarding the expansion of London Heathrow Airport (LHR) yesterday at an Airlines 2022 conference in London.

Mr. Weiss is no longer in favor of the contentious third runway project at LHR. the airline’s CEO has opposed Heathrow’s plan to hike landing fees by 120% as VS looks to obtain extra slots at LHR.

Mr. Weiss addressed the UK government and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), recommending that they keep an eye out for the “monopolistic airport” that was “abusing its authority.”

London Heathrow was given permission by the UK Civil Aviation Authority last summer to increase its landing fees by 56% in 2023, to more than US$35.47 for each passenger. The CAA did order that the fee be reduced to US$31.10 by 2026 at London’s busiest airport, which is also home to British Airways, the national carrier of the UK.

The proposal to increase fees at Heathrow, according to Weiss, is “wonderful for the airport and its primarily foreign shareholders,” notably Qatar and China’s sovereign wealth fund, but “a lousy deal for customers, airlines, and the UK economy.”

The dispute has been worse since a challenging summer when LHR predicted decreased demand and then accused airlines of not staffing up enough to serve all flights, setting a daily cap of 100,000 passengers.

Render of the proposed third runway at LHR. Image: London Heathrow Media Center

“Flawed”


The VS CEO continued, “This goes beyond the upcoming price control phase in four years. Everyone in this room is aware of the harm the summer setback did to consumer confidence. If genuine and accurate passenger projections are employed today for resource planning and resilience-building, a repeat of this in summer 2023 can be absolutely avoided.”

He added in an appeal to the CAA and the British government: “The regulatory environment and mechanism are just simply flawed. It has to be fixed because it is broken.”

Weiss later said that if certain requirements were met, such as reducing fees so it “remains competitive and consumers are protected,” as well as major redevelopment of Heathrow’s Terminal 3, where Virgin is situated, he would still support airport expansion, even the contentious third runway. 

There was “no longer unequivocal backing,” according to Weiss, even though the airline had previously been one of the runway’s largest supporters. However, he disregarded going back to Gatwick, which Virgin abandoned during Covid, claiming there was “no connectivity.” Weiss claimed that by concentrating all of the airline’s operations at one London airport, it was now more effective. 

Photo: London Heathrow Airport

Comments from LHR, IATA


The chief executive of the airport, John Holland-Kaye, commented that the airport’s medium-term plans included either redeveloping Terminal 3 or moving to the new Terminal 2, and that he anticipated “having a positive relationship and dialogue” with VS in the future.

A spokesperson for Heathrow stated: “To provide the airport service consumers expect, two things are needed: for our regulator to grant us the ability to invest in the airport; and for all of the airport’s operators to work together building back capacity. Our current attention is on these. 

Weiss’s requests to alter how LHR’s funding is handled were supported by Willie Walsh, president of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“Heathrow was underestimating its estimates and downplaying demand since it was in their best interests to persuade the CAA that passenger numbers will be lower,” Walsh claimed, adding that it demonstrates that the system is ineffective.


Featured image: Virgin Atlantic G-VZIG Boeing 787-9. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

A proficient writer, social media manager, and educator having expertise in a variety of disciplines. She's based in Kampala, Uganda. Follow her on Twitter @WinifredItungu. Email: winifred@airwaysmag.com.

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