British Airways could lose some of its lucrative Heathrow slots because it is cutting jobs while receiving tens of million of pounds of taxpayers’ money, the Government has indicated.
Aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst told the Commons that she will be reviewing slot allocations at the UK’s busiest airport in the wake of the airline announcing a plan to slash 12,000 jobs despite putting thousands of staff on furlough.
Asked by Transport Select Committee chairman Huw Merriman if British Airways’ slots will be transferred to airlines that are taking on workers, Ms Tolhurst replied: “We want airport landing and take-off slots to be used as effectively as possible for UK consumers as the UK aviation market recovers from the impacts of this terrible disease.
Thanks to the 130 MPs from across Parliament who joined the application to debate job losses across aviation. We’ve been granted it (subject to securing landing slot). In the meantime, after #PMQs tomorrow, have secured an hour to question our Govt Minister #backinthehold pic.twitter.com/5V1zMbgTA1
— Huw Merriman MP (@HuwMerriman) June 2, 2020
“I want to ensure the slots allocation process encourages competition and provides connectivity, so this is something that I will be looking at.”
Job cuts by UK airlines British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are “decisions which I regret”, she told MPs.
Numerous other MPs, including Labour’s Sam Tarry and the SNP’s David Linden also called for British Airways to have their prime-time flight slots rescinded.
Mr Linden said airline staff are “cheesed off” with the handling of the situation by the Government, who must provide “much stronger language” on the issue.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of trade union Unite, said in a statement: “BA is using this health crisis as cover to impose a long-term plan to slash jobs, pay and conditions. No other employer has threatened to effectively ‘fire and rehire’ its workforce.
“There should be a Government review of British Airways’ domination of UK landing slots amid the airline’s betrayal of its workers and the British public.”
British Airways announced in April it plans to reduce its workforce by more than a quarter as it does not expect demand for air travel to return to 2019 levels before 2023.
It had already furloughed around 23,000 staff under the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, which pays 80% of wages up to £2,500 a month.
Ms Tolhurst said: “The scheme was not designed for taxpayers to fund the wages of employees, only for those companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period.”
Slots – which give an airline the right to take off and land at a certain time – can be worth several millions of pounds at Heathrow.
British Airways holds the majority at the west London airport.
Willie Walsh, the outgoing chief executive of British Airways parent company IAG, wrote a letter to Boris Johnson last week stating that the airline received around £35 million from the initiative in April, which amounted to 17% of its average monthly wage bill.
The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority generally have no direct involvement in slot allocation, which is managed by Airport Coordination Limited.