MIDAS Aviation Blog 

Heathrow’s Churn

Heathrow .jpg

For many airlines, airport slots are more valuable than their whole operation and no more so than at London Heathrow where slots get traded, swapped and borrowed in a continual merry go round of activity. It’s a sure sign of a failing airline when they depart Heathrow for another London airport with a cheque normally following from another carrier. It’s also sometimes why some airlines acquire others although that may be “virgin” on the ridiculous as a way to grow a business.

Keeping track of what is happening can be tough and behind every change is a story.  The collapse of Jet Airways is one example with Etihad quickly grabbing back the two slots whilst political opportunism can perhaps explain the great Chinese takeaway to Heathrow from Gatwick in recent years. Below we’ve looked at the last five summer seasons and picked out some highlights of what’s happened.

An extra 3,065 scheduled departing slots over the summer equates to around 15 extra departures a day since Summer 2014 dispelling in part the myth that Heathrow was completely full; it’s just very very full! 

Incredibly, for once, FlyBe are actually a winner! Despite everything else happening they are the largest net winner in the slots game now having some 3,014 slots compared to zero five years ago. Perhaps they have realised that being a UK regional airline meant flying to the UK’s largest hub airport; it may just have been lost in management translation in recent years. Still, a combination of Virgin, Delta Air Lines, KLM and Air France will make good use of that capacity in the coming years. 

Mergers and subtle names changes account for what would appear to be some of the other “winners”. American Airlines merger with US Airways for instance, Eurowings operating for Lufthansa, TAP adding Air Portugal to their name and Alitalia just being Alitalia feature highly in perhaps falsely stated positions. So, we’ve dismissed them!

The table below shows the top ten winners in the Heathrow slots machine. Air China appear to the largest benefactor gaining some 503 extra slots; roughly the equivalent of two extra slots a day. Aeroflot are in second place suggesting that perhaps a mix of commercial and political factors have resulted in these airlines being the biggest winners.

Table 1- Departing Slots Changes London Heathrow Summer Seasons Source: OAG Schedules Analyser 9th May 2019

Table 1- Departing Slots Changes London Heathrow Summer Seasons
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser 9th May 2019

But perhaps the more interesting angle is those airlines that have acquired slots in the last two summer seasons and maybe that’s where the real story is. Tianjin Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines all have one thing in common; their Chinese origin. Collectively with some 393 slots between them, and combined with Air China’s additional slots this summer means there are 657 new slots being used by Chinese airlines; more than three a day through the season. It really has become a bit of a Chinese takeaway. 

And finally, spare a thought for some of the losers in the slot swap game, although some no longer exist. Obviously Jet Airways feature highly having had some 868 slots in Sumer 2018 but joining them in the list are Transaero Airlines, Arik Air, Cyprus Airways, Libyan Airlines and Cobalt. 

Heathrow’s churn will continue for as long as it takes for a 3rdrunway to be opened and as we all know that may be some years ahead which of course makes us wonder who will benefit most up until that point; Chinese airlines, Russian carriers or perhaps FlyBe. Where would you place your bet?

-John Grant

MIDAS Aviation