British Airways CEO Alex Cruz told attendees at this year’s Routes Europe gathering that his airline will not allow fierce competition from low-cost airlines to derail ambitious international expansion plans.
British Airways CEO Alex Cruz took advantage of the annual Routes Europe forum to report that the UK flag carrier is moving full steam ahead when it comes to the expansion of its already substantial long-haul international network. The BA chief took the opportunity to laud plans for a new runway at London Heathrow Airport (LHR), while at the same time cautioning that any increased financial burden on airlines at the airport could make the whole project untenable.
In comments first reported by Flight Global, Cruz told the travel industry luminaries gathered in Bilboa, Spain this week that British Airways has had to get creative to expand its reach despite a shortage of available takeoff and landing slots at its LHR base of operations.
“It is just tremendous to get a sense of the degree of ambition that we have to continue growing the network at Heathrow,” he explained in his keynote speech. “Our strategy remains to keep our hub in London and we’re very much looking forward to speaking with airports at the conference, which will help us shape how our network will develop.”
Cruz noted that the airline cut the frequency of some existing routes to and from the UK’s busiest airport in order to free up slots for expansion to new destinations, including direct flights to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) and Nashville International Airport (BNA). He said that leasing new aircraft and obtaining former Monarch Airlines gates helped to allow the carrier to grow its route map from LHR.
The BA boss indicated that moving forward with a third runway at LHR will help with the carrier’s aggressive expansion plans. Cruz admitted to concerns that the expansion plans could put financial strains on airlines operating at an airport where costs are already “extremely high.”
The CEO was more optimistic that a post-Brexit deal would be reached that will allow UK airlines to operate freely across Europe and around the globe. He said that the British government could help mitigate the damage from the abrupt departure from the European Union (EU) by making it easier for Chinese travelers to obtain visas and enter the country.
Cruz also indicated that while the airline’s expansion has been focused on LHR, the utilization of refurbished Boeing 777 aircraft from London Gatwick Airport (LGW) has allowed BA to go head-to-head with low-cost competitors who have managed to eke out a growing market share in the region. He hinted that his airline may just have an ace up its sleeve when it comes to competing in a business climate forever changed by the relatively recent proliferation of ultra-low-cost rivals.
“We are – and will always be – a quality airline,” Cruz told event organizers in the days leading up to his key note presentation. “We’re growing our route network and schedule. This summer we will be flying 264 routes, 38 more routes than two years ago – an increase of 17 per cent.”