Not for the first time, Michael O’Leary was not mincing his words on the threat posed by British Airways launching a budget airline at Gatwick.
Combining derision with ebullience in trademark fashion, the Ryanair chief dismissed the move by compatriot Sean Doyle, BA’s chief executive, last week.
“Gatwick is not an airport where you’re going to operate a low fare airline profitably,” O’Leary said last week. “I presume it’s just the latest attempt by BA to kind of sit on their [take-off and landing] slots.”
The prospect of BA launching a fresh tilt at a budget airline that would rival the likes of Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz, raised eyebrows when details leaked out 10 days ago.
Doyle, whose passion for Manchester United puts him at odds with O’Leary, a long-time Manchester City fan, emailed staff about plans for “a new operating subsidiary” at Gatwick that would run short-haul services, raising the spectre of yet another own goal by the UK flag carrier.
Those inside the industry were less surprised. The general sentiment was “here we go again”, says one airline executive.
Over the years, BA or its FTSE 100 parent IAG, have made a number of attempts to launch a low-cost UK carrier – but with little success.
Level was the most recent incarnation. But, after launching in Vienna and Paris, the airline never made it to Britain before the pandemic forced IAG to put the carrier on ice.
Go, or Go Fly, is arguably the best known – and most derided – of its experiments. Founded in 1998, it was set up as a separate subsidiary of BA and designed to battle with the nascent budget carriers, which were offering Britons eye-wateringly cheap prices to jet off to the European Continent.