British Airways seems set to gain a valuable additional slot at Heathrow after Irish carrier Aer Lingus wrote to its shareholders asking for permission to transfer the slot for an “agreed consideration”.
The slot in question is for a departure from Heathrow at 06:50 in the morning with an arrival back in London at 22:00. While Aer Lingus has stated that it cannot make money from the slot, British Airways, with its far greater range of destinations and aircraft, will easily be able to incorporate the slot into its schedule and, more than likely, add a new long-haul destination. While these particular slot timings would seem to preclude flights to the Far East, British Airways could use them to launch new or additional services to the east coast of the USA or even West Africa.
Slots at Heathrow are politically sensitive for Aer Lingus as, traditionally, they have been seen as a means of ensuring connectivity to London, the world’s leading financial and aviation centre. However, with the growth in importance of the Gulf states, and increased direct flights from Dublin to Dubai & Abu Dhabi, these links to London are perhaps not quite as important as they once were.
With Heathrow operating at just under 99% of available capacity, the only way that airlines can increase services at the airport is through a takeover of another airline (as with British Airways takeover of bmi in 2012) or by purchasing slots from another carrier. As airline takeovers are incredibly difficult (and near impossible between European and Non-European airlines) purchasing slots is pretty much the only genuine option. In 2008, following the Open Skies agreement between the US & EU, it is rumoured that Continental Airlines paid over $200 million for prime time slots at Heathrow. It is unlikely that British Airways will pay even a fraction of that amount to Aer Lingus however.