Gatwick has long been a problem for British Airways. It would dearly love to become Heathrow Airways, if there were the space and the slots to do so. However, Gatwick is actually strategically important for them and especially with keeping their loyal executive club members happy.
Although a new deal, aimed at ‘reducing cost’ at Gatwick didn’t make it past the pilots union, we have to remember this is a step further than the last message which came out of the airline even questioning the existence of keeping it operational.
Therefore, there is intent by British Airways at keeping a short haul operation at Gatwick as long as the costs are right. The first attempt at trying to keep the operation ‘in house’ seems to have fallen flat, but that isn’t their only option.
Any fanciful idea of British Airways buying a rival or ‘strategic’ partner can instantly be ruled out. This is an exercise in reducing cost and overhead, not one of capital expenditure or possibly increasing costs. Its an exercise in doing more with less money.
One idea long rumoured and thrown about is the possibility of Vueling taking over Gatwick. However, with a patchy reputation and lack of brand recognition in the UK (something they tried to combat unsuccessfully in Europe with Level) it doesn’t sound like a good alternative.
Aer Lingus also tried to set up their own base at Gatwick, initially with good intentions to the sun and slopes – but ended up falling away once again to brand recognition. Would you seriously think about Aer Lingus when booking a flight from Gatwick to Malaga?
Therefore I think their best solution is actually being set up in Manchester, and the new UK arm of Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus has a reputation of a good control of costs, its had to in Dublin in order to compete with Ryanair over the last 30 years, and it also has the added attraction of a UK AOC (Air Operators Certificate).
However, it wouldn’t be branded as Aer Lingus, even if they were the operating airline. It would be branded as British Airways, with BA uniform, BA interior, BA food, BA service, BA everything – just as GB Airways used to do the sun routes from Gatwick 15 years ago. Essentially returning to the franchise model British Airways started to move away from (although Sun Air in Denmark, and Comair in South Africa remain).
This has a two fold advantage for BA, Aer Lingus has low costs and contracts would be technically with a brand new carrier – and they get to keep the brand recognition with most people not being able to tell the difference.
A Manchester base shouldn’t be ruled out either, something which British Airways has been flirting with for quite a while…