Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Television viewers have recently been treated to the ” some might say extraordinary ” scenes of Willie Walsh and Steve Ridgway striding round studios spreading the good news of Future Heathrow.
This metaphorical arm-in-arm chumminess is all the more interesting given the almost mutual loathing that BA and Virgin enjoyed a few years ago. ”No way BA/AA,” was just one of many slogans daubed on Richard Branson”s aircraft, while this year”s events can hardly have helped the bonhomie.
But the recent rapprochement extended so far that at last weeks” Aviation Club lunch in London, Ridgway - a first-time guest speaker for the day - was sat at the same top table as BA chairman Martin Broughton.
The reason for such cosiness was clear ” the nightmare headlines that have plagued Heathrow this year are constraining both carriers ” particularly in the light of Open Skies ” that will see a major revision of existing capacity as US carriers in particular beat a path to its door.
”The number of destinations that Heathrow serves has fallen from 227 to 180 and the range of regional airports has fallen dramatically.” said Ridgway.
”We are in a critical phase with Heathrow and we have a reasonability to make sure we fix it. Now is the time for strong political leadership ” the industry has got to make its case and make sure it is resolute; it is there to be lost and we must not let that happen.”
There is a wider point as well as Virgin and BA”s bottom line. Passengers slogging through the quagmire that is currently Heathrow are already anecdotally spreading the idea ” rightly or wrongly - that the airport is to be avoided at all costs.
As Ridgeway so eruditely put it: ”Putting a brake on Heathrow will not do anything for climate change ” people will simply go elsewhere.”
It”s already happening as US business travellers in particular, fly over Paris and Amsterdam to avoid London, while myriad images of seasonal chaos, not to mention the looming threat of industrial action, combine to dent the airport”s battered image.
It”s certainly not all gloom of course. BA”s shiny, vast Terminal 5, an edifice frequently referred to by Ridgway, is due to open shortly, while Virgin is highly optimistic that the ” eventual ” Heathrow East will alleviate many of its problems.
And of course Virgin has already implemented its radical new Upper Class Wing that speeds its business passengers through the awfulness of T3 and straight into its truly world-class lounge.
All of the above however, is completely redundant if the EU and US fail to progress Phase II of Open Skies. ”We need to believe that the EU will stick to its guns on Phase II,” said Ridgway.
”The Europeans need to be clear that all these airlines moving to Heathrow is a risk if Phase II doesn”t happen.”
Ridgway was making his observations at the Aviation Club right in front of the Virgin table, where ABTN was lucky enough to be invited. And after he closed his remarks, he was presented ” with all things ” with an Aviation Club tie. The irony was not lost on the tieless Virgin group.