Budget airline Easyjet backs Heathrow expansion

easyJet plane Image copyright PA
Image caption Easyjet said Heathrow expansion was in the "best interests" of passengers

Budget airline Easyjet has said it is in favour of expanding Heathrow airport.

In a submission to the Airports Commission, the airline said expanding Heathrow would provide greater passenger and economic benefits.

Easyjet has 11 bases in the UK with the biggest at Gatwick, which is bidding to build a second runway rather than expand Heathrow.

The company said Heathrow expansion was in the "best interests" of passengers.

'Increased airport charges'

In the submission, Easyjet argued expanding Gatwick would lead to a "significant increase" in airport charges and that would mean higher fares for passengers.

Chief executive Carolyn McCall said: "Heathrow is in the best interests of passengers as it has the greatest demand.

"By comparison, the Gatwick proposal requires a significant increase in airport charges.

"This would inevitably lead to higher fares for Gatwick's passengers, the vast majority of whom are flying for leisure."

A Heathrow spokesman said: "It is great news for Heathrow passengers and we look forward to working with Easyjet to deliver new routes and services."

A spokesman for Gatwick Airport said Easyjet's position was based on its own "narrow commercial interests".

"The government however, will have to make a decision for the country balancing what is best for both the economy and the environment.

"Gatwick can deliver its second runway without the massive environmental damage which has stopped Heathrow expansion time and time again."

Last year, the Airports Commission published its shortlisted options into airport expansion.

A public consultation on the options ends on 3 February and the commission's final report is due later this year.

Analysis: Richard Westcott, Transport Correspondent

Why would Easyjet, Gatwick's biggest customer, want a new runway at Heathrow?

Well, money.

Easyjet says the bare fact is that most passengers want to fly out of Heathrow.

Adding a new runway, it argues, would allow a big low cost carrier, like Easyjet for example, to get a foothold in the country's biggest airport. The extra competition, it claims, would force the likes of British Airways to cut their fares.

Another runway at Gatwick, it says, wouldn't attract as many passengers or airlines, and that lack of competition would mean fares going up.

All this is hotly disputed by Gatwick as you can imagine. They reckon that expanding their airport will lead to more competition, not less, which would be good for customers.

So it's a significant day. A big player in the runway row has shown their hand.

By setting up the Airports Commission, the coalition buried its splits over where to build a new runway. But the uneasy truce can only last so long.

The commission makes its recommendation straight after the general election. Whichever scheme it picks is bound to open up more divisions.

Follow Richard on Twitter at @BBCwestcott

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