Writing in the Telegraph, embattled Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said on Sunday that the West London Airport was far from being in decline and instead showed “Britain at its best”. Perhaps trumpeting his own performance, Holland-Kaye claimed Heathrow’s status as Europe’s busiest airport had not “been achieved by accident.”
The long-serving chief executive has taken a beating in recent months over Heathrow’s ability to recover from the effects of the pandemic, but Holland-Kaye has repeatedly faced down calls to resign amidst fierce criticism from the likes of the Dubai-based Emirates, which is one of Heathrow’s biggest customers.
Instead, Holland-Kaye now appears to be on the offensive, calling Heathrow’s passenger charges “good value” for both passengers and the airlines that serve the airport.
Heathrow is, of course, trying to make the case that the passenger charge price cap set by civil aviation regulators is too low and should be increased to allow more investment at the airport. The UK Civil Aviation Authority ruled earlier this year that the maximum average charge per passenger should drop from today’s £30.19 to £26.31 by 2026.
Holland-Kaye admits that passenger charges at Heathrow are higher than at rivals like Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaule or Frankfurt Am Main but claims this is simply down to the fact that Heathrow doesn’t get any government subsidies.
“The idea that this charge is pushing up airfares for passengers doesn’t stack up,” Holland-Kaye wrote. “The airport charge has increased by £10. Meanwhile, the average airfare airlines charge Heathrow passengers is up by over £156 this year compared 2019.”
“The fact that airlines are now returning to profits before Heathrow is a clear sign the CAA has got the balance wrong,” he continued.
Holland-Kaye went on to argue that Heathrow’s ability to rebuild passenger numbers quicker than its peers throughout Europe was a” credit to forward planning and teamwork across the airport.”
“It has not always been easy, but we have managed it better than most other major international airports.”
Heathrow continues to blame many of the problems at the airport over the summer on staff shortages that were the responsibility of airlines to sort out. In fact, Holland-Kaye says the airport only directly employs 10 percent of all the staff who work at Heathrow but was helping airline partners to recruit in a tight labour market.
Some of the biggest airlines at Heathrow do, however, disagree with many of Holland-Kaye’s arguments. Speaking to the same newspaper last week, director general of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, said Heathrow’s performance had been “terrible” and called for “heads to roll” if there was a repeat of the disruption witnessed during the summer.
“I’m not saying John Holland-Kaye should lose his job,” ex-British Airways chief Walsh said. “But what I’m saying is, people should not have sympathy for John Holland-Kaye.
Virgin Atlantic recently withdrew support for a third runway at Heathrow over the continuing disagreement between the airport and airlines over the passenger price cap.
Chief executive Shai Weiss said the CAA’s system for setting the cap was “broken” and called on regulators to “pay closer attention to the abuse of power by a de facto monopolistic airport”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.