Bmi, Britain's third largest airline, will fly near-empty "ghost flights" in order to keep valuable take-off and landing slots at Heathrow.
The company admitted it would continue flights, despite an expected slump in passenger numbers, in order to avoid losing the multimillion-pound slots.
Government "use-it-or-lose-it" rules mean airlines must use 80 per cent of their scheduled slots, or forfeit them.
The rise in fuel prices and an expected slump in passengers after the summer break will force many airlines to cancel flights. However, bmi said it will go to extreme lengths to ensure it does not lose any of its coveted slots.
Tim Bye, deputy chief executive of bmi, said the airline would prefer to cancel uneconomic flights, especially midday flights from London to Scotland and northern England, but were forced to fly the routes eight of ten times to avoid losing the slots.
"We have to keep flying to preserve our slots," he said. "What might have been a marginal service in most winters will become even worse, partly because of the price of fuel and partly because of the drop-off in demand that the general economic cycle will bring. Economic pressures will drive the demand down even more than airlines would normally expect."