The CAA has raised its cap on passenger fees at the UK’s leading airport from £19.60 per passenger to £30, starting in January.
The authority has begun a consultation on charges at Heathrow. While the sharp rise is only a temporary measure, the final figure for the five years from summer 2022 is expected to be close to the £30 level.
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, accused Heathrow of “abusing its unique position as the UK’s only hub airport”.
He said: “Today’s initial proposals from the Civil Aviation Authority fail to protect the British consumer, paving the way for Heathrow airport to introduce unacceptable charges, just as international travel resumes at scale.
“The world’s most expensive airport risks becoming over 50 per cent more expensive, as Heathrow and its owners seek to recoup their pandemic losses and secure hundreds of millions in dividends to shareholders.
“It is concerning that the regulator has failed in its first opportunity to step in, and together with industry partners, we will oppose these proposals in the strongest terms to protect passengers.
“No other airport in the world is proposing increases on this scale and by becoming unaffordable, competing EU hubs and airlines will benefit.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “The CAA is our last line of defence against a monopoly-abusing hub airport.
“Monopolies will always try it on and that’s why we need a strong regulator to clamp down on what is blatant gouging. How on earth can it be in the interests of consumers to ramp up charges by as much as 50 per cent?
“It’s Heathrow’s shareholders and not our customers who should be asked to foot the bill. We will oppose this in the strongest terms.”
The former British Airways chief executive, Willie Walsh – now director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata) – said: “It is disappointing that the CAA has opened the door to a large potential escalation in Heathrow’s charges.
“Even at the low end of the proposed range, Heathrow will be able to increase what is already the highest airport charge in the world.
“It is vital the CAA demonstrates it has not been gaslighted by Heathrow into accepting their outrageous demands.
“We urge them to set the lowest possible charge, and prevent a monopoly from ripping off the consumer and damaging UK aviation competitiveness at a crucial time for rebuilding jobs and connectivity.”
The CAA’s chief executive, Richard Moriarty, said: “Our principal objective is to further the interests of consumers while recognising the challenges the industry has faced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These initial proposals seek to protect consumers against unfair charges, and will allow Heathrow to continue to appropriately invest in keeping the airport resilient, efficient and one that provides a good experience for passengers.”
Heathrow handled 42 per cent fewer flights last week compared with the number in 2019, according to the European flight management organisation Eurocontrol.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Our aim is to reach a settlement that enables us to give passengers a great service while operating a safe, resilient and competitive hub airport for Britain.
“Airlines generate premium profit margins on their services from our world-class facilities. While it is right the CAA protect consumers against excessive profits and waste, the settlement is not designed to shield airlines from legitimate cost increases or the impacts of fewer people travelling.”
Heathrow is already adding an “Airport Cost Recovery Charge” of £8.90 per passenger on outbound flights, on top of a new £5 vehicle drop-off fee that will come into effect next month.