The boss of easyJet claims there no “economic reason” to build a second runway at Gatwick.
An additional runway at Heathrow should be preferred choice of the government, claiming that airlines were “queuing up to get in”.
The comments from chief executive Carolyn McCall come weeks before the Airports Commission is due to make a recommendation on the future of air expansion in the south-east of England.
She said that Gatwick, the country’s second-busiest airport, did not need to expand because of a lack of demand from passengers.
McCall told The Times that the funding required to build a new runway at Gatwick would hit passengers with a “very onerous” increase in charges “from the word go”.
Even though easyJet is currently Gatwick’s biggest customer, McCall said it had “never proved it can really be the kind of airport that Heathrow is”.
“Heathrow has got people queuing up to get in,” she said. “It costs £25 million for one slot at Heathrow. We bought 20 slot pairs at Gatwick for £20 million.
“The airline demand is for Heathrow because you get the yields from passengers at Heathrow; you get the hub effect. It’s a very economic reason why we don’t need an extra runway to go into Gatwick.”
McCall confirmed that easyJet, which carries more than 66 million passengers a year, would consider bidding for space at an expanded Heathrow.
A spokesman for Gatwick said: “We have always maintained that easyJet’s position is based on its own narrow commercial interests.
“Heathrow is already the most expensive airport in Europe and expansion there can only drive up costs for airlines and passengers even further, deterring low-cost carriers from operating at Heathrow in the future, just as it has for the past 25 years since the low-cost revolution got under way.”
Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson also indicated that he favoured expansion at Heathrow, the airline’s main UK hub.
Writing in The Times today, he said: “I’ve been clear that I think that the UK needs room to grow at Heathrow, its international hub, but this cannot be at any cost.
“Over the past few weeks, the political rhetoric has ramped up. Everyone seems to have a view on what the country needs.
“But it is essential that the new government and the successful airport, whichever that may be, put consumers above shareholders in their thinking.”
Turning the Airport Commission’s recommendations into reality “will need a different approach to funding, creative solutions to enhance competition now and in the future proper dialogue with affected communities and effective scrutiny of business cases,” he added.
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