Budget carriers Go and Ryanair look set to follow Easy-jet as British Airways suspends services from the airport

Gatwick could soon become, after Stansted, the new London battlefield for Europe's leading no-frills carriers. Go and Ryanair appear set to follow EasyJet in exploiting British Airways' decision to wind down operations at the airport.

Go, which hitherto has flown only out of Stansted in the London area,has been awarded slots at the UK's second largest airport. And should British Airways decide in a strategic review due in February to scale down operations at Gatwick to an even greater degree, the budget carrier "hopes to add to existing slots to offer a credibleservice".

Europe's largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, which flies to Gatwick from Dublin but like Go has made Stansted a platform for growth, has also applied for slots at Gatwick, according to sources close to the airport. However, they have yet to be awarded.

Last month, EasyJet unveiled a major expansion at the airport, doubling the number of destinations it serves to eight, starting next month. Using either Boeing 737-300s or 737-700s, it will treble the number of EasyJet aircraft operating through Gatwick to six. EasyJet's main UK base remains London Luton, and the airline says a twice-daily service to Zurich is designed to replace a corresponding service which BA axed in October as part of a cost-cutting strategy. Edinburgh will be served five times a day, Malaga twice daily and Palma daily.

In the wake of the 11 September attacks, BA axed 190 weekly scheduled services out of Gatwick, suspending flights to Gdansk, Gothenburg, Montpellier, New York Kennedy, Rotterdam, Shannon, Stockholm and Zurich. Flights to Accra, Baltimore, Dhahran, Entebbe, Grand Cayman, Lyon, Nassau and Turks and Caicos were transferred to Heathrow. These changes brought the share of Gatwick slots held by BA and its wholly owned franchise carriers down to 39% from 45%. Analysts believe more could soon be freed up, pointing to the possible cancellation of services to Bologna, Lyons, Naples and Venice. Gatwick's owner BAA says it is "not doing deals" to attract low-cost carriers.

Analysts say low-cost airlines' interest in the relatively high cost and congested Gatwick marks a shift in business economics away from the rapid aircraft turnarounds typical of smaller airports, towards the capture of higher yielding passengers. "Luton and Stansted in terms of business travel are exhausted," says Chris Tarry of Commerzbank in London.

Source: Flight International