Heathrow has warned passengers should expect travel chaos to continue for the next five years, blaming the regulator for bowing to airlines by cutting landing fees.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that the cap on landing fees charged per passenger at Heathrow will fall from £30.19 to £26.31 by 2026, following a furious lobbying effort by the airport and airlines.
Airlines have long argued that Heathrow is one of the most expensive airports in the world and urged the CAA to resist its demands to raise charges to more than £40 per passenger.
Heathrow, meanwhile, has said that it needs to raise the fees to make sure the airport does not fall into disrepair.
Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the CAA, said: "Today's announcement is about doing the right thing for consumers. We have listened very carefully to both Heathrow Airport and the airlines who have differing views to each other about the future level of charges.
“Our independent and impartial analysis balances affordable charges for consumers, while allowing Heathrow to make the investment needed for the future."
However, Heathrow hit back at the decision, saying that it would result in further chaos to passengers at a time when thousands of customers are being hit by widespread cancellations owing to staff shortages.
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said: “As the industry rebuilds, our focus is to work alongside airlines and their ground handlers to give passengers a reliable and consistent journey through Heathrow.
“The CAA continues to underestimate what it takes to deliver a good passenger service, both in terms of the level of investment and operating costs required and the fair incentive needed for private investors to finance it.
“Uncorrected, these elements of the CAA’s proposal will only result in passengers getting a worse experience at Heathrow as investment in service dries up.”
In a long-running spat between them and Heathrow, owned by a collection of predominantly overseas pension, infrastructure and sovereign wealth funds, airlines have accused the airport of paying out dividends of £4bn in recent years.
Mr Holland-Kaye added: “Economic regulation should drive affordable private investment in Britain’s infrastructure to the benefit of users, not hamper it. The CAA’s proposal will undermine the delivery of key improvements for passengers, while also raising serious questions about Britain’s attractiveness to private investors.
“We will take time to assess the CAA’s proposal in more detail and will provide a further evidence-based response to this latest consultation. There is still time for the CAA to get this right with a plan that puts passengers first and encourages everyone in the industry to work together to better serve the travelling public.”