In a confrontation with London Heathrow, Emirates Airlines said it will not reduce its capacity

Emirates Airlines on the tarmac in a general view of Dubai International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Abdulhadrami/File Photo

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DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Emirates airline said on Thursday it had rejected demands from London’s Heathrow Airport to reduce capacity despite threatening legal action, and that it planned to continue operating its six daily flights to Britain’s busiest airport.

Heathrow Airport this week asked airlines to stop selling some tickets for summer flights, limiting the number of passengers flying from the center to 100,000 per day to relieve pressure on operations that have been unable to keep up with demand.

Emirates, which is owned by the Dubai government, said Heathrow Airport has given the airline 36 hours from Wednesday to reduce capacity on its six daily flights, which are operated with the giant Airbus (AIR.PA) A380.

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“Their communications have not only dictated which specific flights we must forgo paying passengers, but they have also threatened legal action for non-compliance,” the airline said.

“Until further notice, Emirates Airlines plans to operate as scheduled to and from (Heathrow),” it said in the statement.

Emirates, the world’s largest operator of long-haul aircraft, operates international flights for its operations. Heathrow Airport is one of the most important hubs in the world, while Emirates Airlines does not have a domestic market to mitigate the drop in international traffic.

A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport had to impose restrictions after months of consultations with airlines that failed to find a solution, citing staff shortages as the main issue.

“We had no choice but to make the difficult decision to impose a capacity cap designed to give passengers a better and more reliable flight and to keep everyone working at the airport safe.”

“It would be disappointing if any airline, rather than working together, would want to make a profit ahead of a safe and reliable passenger flight,” the spokesperson added.

Other airlines, such as Aer Lingus, have said they are awaiting guidance from Heathrow on how capacity limits will affect them, while some such as Etihad Airways say they have been forced to reschedule flights at short notice.

The IATA has criticized the cuts. Read more

Emirates said tens of thousands of passengers would be affected if the airline reduced its capacity and that it was impossible to rebook passengers because incoming flights were full.

The Emirates A380 can carry more than 600 passengers.

Class fees

The airline accused Heathrow of inefficiency and a “blatant disregard” for consumers. He urged shareholders at Heathrow Airport to scrutinize the decisions of the management team.

Emirates said dnata, a unit of parent Emirates Group that provides ground handling and catering services at Heathrow Airport, is capable and ready to handle its flights there.

“So the crux of the problem lies in the centralized services and systems that fall to the airport operator.”

Heathrow and other European airports have capped the number of passengers to ease congestion caused by high demand and staff shortages after massive layoffs during the pandemic.

Signs of unrest between the world’s largest international airline and Heathrow emerged last month, when its chief Tim Clark said the airline received only hours’ notice of the cancellation of the A380 flight at Heathrow. Read more

Emirates said it was impractical to transfer flights to other British airports and that 70% of those flying from Heathrow were booked to join connecting flights from Dubai, highlighting the impact of the cuts on the airline if it were imposed.

The standoff comes on the heels of a row between airlines and Heathrow Airport over increases in airport fees per passenger.

Airlines have accused the airport of ignoring their warnings of high demand in order to justify higher fees per passenger, which tend to rise as the number of passengers decreases.

Heathrow Airport rejects the accusations and says some airlines have been slow to adapt to the rush of post-pandemic travel.

Emirates said signs that travel would pick up sharply had long been clear. Its Heathrow flights have been in high demand for months.

“(Heathrow) has chosen not to act, not plan or invest,” Emirates said in a statement.

Analysts said it was not immediately clear how quickly the public standoff would escalate to include other airlines.

“Heathrow will not want to provoke a legal battle with one of its major customers, but how does it get itself out of Emirates’ insistence to continue flying,” said John Strickland, a UK-based aviation analyst.

He added that smaller airlines lacked the muscle of a carrier in Dubai while some of the larger airlines had “really fallen into their sword”.

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(Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Paul Sandel in London.)

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