'Windfall' for British Airways as it wins back 12 Flybe flight slots

By Douglas Fraser
Business and economy editor, Scotland

  • Published
BA, BMI and FlyBe planesImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
British Airways has won back 12 routes it had to give up when it took over BMI eight years ago

British Airways has managed to emerge with a windfall gain from the collapse of Flybe.

The airline has regained 12 coveted flight slots which were reserved for its rivals on Scottish routes.

The "remedy slots" were set aside as part of the competition authorities' agreement to let BA take over former carrier BMI eight years ago.

Before then, the two airlines had competed on Edinburgh and Aberdeen links with Heathrow Airport in London.

In order to maintain competition and to encourage other airlines into that market, the European Commission insisted that 12 slots were set aside for flights between Heathrow and the east coast cities.

Failed to attract passengers

Glasgow was linked to Heathrow by BMI as well as British Airways, but that service ended before the takeover, so it was not included in the conditions.

The deal, in 2012, was attractive to British Airways because BMI had controlled so many landing slots. After agreeing to hand over the slots to Virgin Little Red, BA gained 42 BMI slots.

Virgin Atlantic had set up the Virgin Little Red subsidiary to compete on those routes, but it failed to attract enough passengers and ceased flying the routes in 2015.

Image caption,
One of the Flybe aircraft grounded at Edinburgh Airport after the collapse of the company

Flybe, which was part owned by Virgin Atlantic, took on the slots and provided links to Heathrow from 2016.

However, Flybe collapsed last week. Growing losses were compounded by the downturn in bookings as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The valuable and rare Heathrow slots revert to British Airways' parent company, IAG, which also runs Iberia airline. The company can use them for links to destinations other than Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

A British Airways source would not say how the slots will be used, but said they did not have to be used for Scottish flights.

It was emphasised that British Airways remained obliged to hand the slots to another rival airline, if it wants to start new services between Heathrow and Scottish airports.