International Airlines Group (IAG) has expressed interest in some London Gatwick Airport slots previously operated by defunct UK leisure carrier Thomas Cook.

Thomas Cook Airlines, which ceased operations Sept. 23, averaged around 15 daily Gatwick slot pairs in summer and nine daily pairs in winter.

Gatwick slots are highly sought-after, but the Thomas Cook portfolio is highly seasonal and timed at irregular hours, on various days of the week. This makes them most attractive to existing Gatwick operators with large portfolios looking to streamline and grow.

IAG carrier British Airways (BA) is one of the three top slot-holders at the airport, alongside UK LCC easyJet and Scandinavian LCC Norwegian Air Shuttle.

“We’ve expressed an interest in a very limited number of slots at Gatwick. The general slot portfolio that Thomas Cook held at Gatwick wasn’t particularly attractive and, with the exception of some limited slots, we’ve no interest in any of the residual assets or activities of the Thomas Cook Group,” Walsh said, speaking on IAG’s third-quarter earnings call Oct. 31.

ATW understands the administrators had invited bidders to voice their initial interest by Oct. 14, with an offer deadline of Oct. 16. Walsh made the comments Oct. 31, suggesting IAG is among those shortlisted bidders.

BA Holidays saw an “uptick” in premium bookings when Thomas Cook went into liquidation. “We expect that to continue into 2020 and beyond,” Walsh said.

IAG has no plans to change BA Holidays’ business model in the wake of Thomas Cook’s failure, beyond working more closely with other group airlines. Today, BA Holidays mainly uses lift from BA, but Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus is getting involved as well.

“We do see an opportunity, with BA Holidays, to continue to expand the business. It’s been doing very well in recent years,” Walsh said.

When asked about LCC Norwegian’s improved results and interline agreement with New York-based LCC JetBlue Airways, Walsh said he was not surprised by either of these developments.

“We continue to wish Norwegian well. They’ve done what they needed to do,” Walsh said, in terms of significantly reducing growth and cutting capacity. “They’re clearly not out of the woods yet and I think they still have a long way to go, but their initial measures are what you would have expected, and I hope they continue to turn the business around.”

In 2018, IAG acquired a shareholding in Norwegian, with a view to a full takeover. However, IAG eventually disposed of its shares after several offers for the Scandinavian LCC were rejected by Norwegian’s board.

Victoria Moores