(From left): Virgin's Paul Charles, easyJet's Andy Harrison, Virgin's Steve Ridgway, bmi's Nigel Turner, Ryanair's Michael Cawley
In an unprecedented move four of the UK”s top five airlines joined forces in London to condemn the swingeing hike in airport charges announced by the CAA today (11 March).
In a sign of their collective anger, bmi, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and easyJet, who would ”not normally give each other the time of day” according to easyJet chief executive Andy Harrison, called on Secretary of State Ruth Kelly to ”solve this mess.”
The increases, which BAA says are needed for vital infrastructure improvements, will see Heathrow charges for example leap an eye-watering 23.5% while those at Gatwick will jump 21%.
”London airports are in a mess ” airport regulation has failed and the CAA has failed,” said Harrison.
”We call on the Secretary of State to step in and we ask for a moratorium on these price increases. For all we know BAA has the makings of a Southern Rock.”
Warming to the theme, bmi chief executive Nigel Turner added: ”Ferrovial [BAA”s owner] has indulged in a bunch of gaming that you have to take your hat off to. It has delivered predictable results that will cost UK aviation and the UK economy dear. This will make the UK aviation industry squirm ” BAA would embarrass an Eastern Bloc.”
Speaking to ABTN Turner conceded that the Secretary of State ”was not interventionist by nature.” Turner none-the-less insisted that a price moratorium was possible, particularly in the light of her decision to review charges at Stansted.
”She will think very hard about today ” she knows what damage this will cause,” he said. ”We have already had a 65% increase in charges during the past five years ” it”s outrageous.”
The bmi chief executive also revealed that in 20 years with the airline he had not received a single telephone call from London Gatwick. ”Have they not heard of bmi?” he said. ”It is not competition ” they are rearranging the deckchairs ” monopolies bring the worst out of people.”
Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway also added his voice to the call for a break-up of the BAA monopoly as well as individual airport terminals in a bid to improve the passenger experience.
”We need an umbrella of protection for the consumer and to introduce proper competition between airports ” that will come from a break-up of BAA.
”It would create assets and an infrastructure that is fit for purpose. Breaking up BAA”s stranglehold would free up terminals to compete.”
And the Virgin boss cited New York JFK, which ten years ago ”was a basket case” but where successive terminals wooed the carrier with a dramatic increase in quality. ”Don”t tell us this can”t be done.”
The absence of British Airways at this morning”s gathering of airline chiefs was noteworthy, but Turner insisted this was due to the royal opening of Terminal 5 this Friday, adding ”BA says that the regulator has failed.”
There has been speculation that the group of four would boycott the price increases, but Ryanair deputy CEO Michael Cawley quashed this saying: ”We are all law-abiding airlines.”